The umbilical cord passes through a small opening in an unborn baby’s stomach and connects the mother to the fetus. When the stomach muscles don’t form together completely after birth, there may be an opening where tissue can poke through. In most cases, the issue only affects infants, but it is possible for an adult to notice symptoms.
Symptoms of an Umbilical Hernia
Umbilical hernias are most commonly noticed by parents when the baby cries, laughs, coughs or strains to use the bathroom. The belly button may protrude and recede as the child takes deep breaths and exhales. While umbilical hernias are almost always painless in children, adult-onset umbilical hernias may cause discomfort.
Seek emergency care if:
- The bulge becomes swollen and discolored
- The bulge becomes painful
- Vomiting occurs
Common Umbilical Hernia Causes
In children, the umbilical cord opening will close soon after birth, but in some cases, the stomach muscles don’t completely connect. Research has found that African-American babies, premature babies or babies with a low birth weight are more susceptible to umbilical hernias.
When the opening doesn’t form together fully, it can create a weakness in the abdominal wall which could lead to a hernia later in life. Adults are more likely to have an umbilical hernia if they are:
- Obese or overweight
- Have had several pregnancies
- Pregnancies have resulted in twins, triplets, etc.
- Have had previous abdominal surgeries
Treating Umbilical Hernias
Umbilical hernias usually close on their own by the age of one or two, but if the issue still persists around the age of four, treatment may be needed. Typically, doctors won’t treat an umbilical hernia until:
- It causes pain or discomfort
- It begins to grow in size and reaches over a half of an inch in diameter
- It traps intestinal tissue and cuts off blood supply
Hernia surgery is a simple and common procedure. Most patients who receive the surgery are able to leave the hospital the same day. It is recommended that patients limit their physical activity for three to four weeks following the procedure.