What Is an Umbilical Hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a condition in which part of the intestine or fat bulges out through the muscles at the belly button, where the umbilical cord is located before birth. Umbilical hernias are usually harmless and are most common in infants. This type of hernia usually corrects itself during the first couple years of life. Children as old as 4 years can have an umbilical hernia without needing surgery.

Umbilical hernias are usually painless, but you’ll notice bulging at the belly button when your child is coughing, straining, or crying. 

Although umbilical hernias are typically harmless, sometimes an incarcerated hernia can develop. Incarcerated hernias happen when the intestine or fat gets trapped outside of the belly, causing severe pain, nausea and vomiting, a swollen belly, intestinal damage, and severe constipation. An incarcerated hernia is a medical emergency.

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Umbilical Hernia Treatment

Your child’s health care provider may decide surgery is needed to repair an umbilical hernia if the hernia:

  • blocks the intestine or develops into an incarcerated hernia,
  • doesn’t go away by the time the child is 4 years old,
  • is large and isn’t decreasing in size, or
  • is causing your child pain.

During surgery, the surgeon will make an incision near the hernia and ensure that all of the intestines are behind the belly wall. Then, the surgeon will close the opening with stitches. Your child should be allowed to go home that same day.

Recovery After Umbilical Hernia Surgery

Diet and digestion

After surgery, your child can return to his or her regular diet as tolerated.

Babies can breastfeed or take a bottle, unless your child’s health care provider says otherwise.

It’s important to make sure your child gets enough to drink after surgery to avoid dehydration. Give your child more to drink if you notice chapped lips, dry mouth, or dark yellow urine. Dehydrated babies sometimes have a sinking soft spot and go through fewer diapers. Babies and children should be urinating normally 24 hours after surgery.

Medications

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen should be enough to keep your child’s pain under control. Our team recommends alternating between the two for the first 24 hours after surgery, then as needed for up to a week.

Home care

Keep your child’s incision site clean and dry. Your child can take a shower or have a sponge bath two days after surgery. Your child cannot take a bath or get in a pool for one week after surgery because the incision site can’t be soaked or submerged until then.

If your child’s incision site has a bandage or dressing, it can be removed two days after surgery. Wound closure strips should fall off between 10 and 14 days after surgery and waterproof glue should peel off seven to 10 days after surgery.

You can expect to see some dry blood stains on the wound closure strips for about 24 hours after surgery. If the incision site is soaked with blood, the blood is fresh, or the amount of blood is increasing, apply pressure to the site with a clean, dry cloth until bleeding stops. Contact your child’s surgeon if you have questions or concerns.

Exercise and physical activity

Your child shouldn’t roughhouse or participate in activities that require balance like riding a bike or playing on the playground after surgery because his or her balance could be affected by the anesthesia used during surgery. Talk to your child’s health care provider about when he or she can go back to school.

We know it is difficult to restrict a child's activity, but children actually restrict themselves pretty well. Once your child is feeling better, he or she can return to full activity.

Seek Immediate Care

Contact your doctor at 801-662-2950 if your child experiences:

  • A temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pain that won’t go away with medication
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Bleeding, swelling, or increased drainage at the incision site

 Take your child to the emergency room or call 911 immediately if he or she is having trouble breathing.