What is umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia happens when the "belly button" or umbilicus sticks out from the abdomen. The hernia may grow and stick out more or begin to disappear as the child grows.

Ordinarily, the umbilical ring (muscle around the belly button) gradually closes after birth as the child matures and begins to walk. If the umbilical ring does not close completely, the intestines protrude into the umbilicus causing the hernia.

The hernia may be 1/2 inch or up to 2 inches in size. Usually, the hernia can be pushed in with a finger. If it becomes hard or reddened and there is pain and tenderness, you should call your child's pediatrician.

Is my baby at risk?

Umbilical hernia is a common problem — one of every six children will have an umbilical hernia. Babies born with low birth weight (less than three pounds) are likely to have one, and African-American children are nine times more likely than Caucasian children to have umbilical hernias.

How do you treat an umbilical hernia?

Umbilical hernias most often close all by themselves — usually by the time a child is 4 or 5 years old. Children with very large umbilical hernias will likely need surgical repair.

When a hernia is very large, many surgeons will fix it when the child is 1 to 2 years old. Otherwise, waiting to see if the hernia closes on its own is often the best course of action. If the hernia doesn't close as the child grows and develops stomach muscle, it will then be repaired with surgery.

The surgical procedure to repair a umbilical hernia requires an anesthetic agent, and your child will be taken to the operating room. It does not require a hospital stay unless your child has some additional condition that needs post-operative nursing care.