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Umbilical Hernia in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a bulge through the abdominal wall in the area of your child's umbilicus (belly button). The hernia may contain fluid, tissue from the abdomen, or part of an organ (such as an intestine). Children who are born prematurely, have a low birth weight, or are African-American, may be at an increased risk for an umbilical hernia.

What causes an umbilical hernia?

  • An opening in the abdominal wall that does not close at birth
  • Weakness in the abdominal wall

What are the signs and symptoms of an umbilical hernia?

Umbilical hernias usually do not cause any pain. It may disappear when your child is relaxed and lying flat. Your child may have any of the following:

  • A bulge or swelling in the area of his or her navel
  • A bulge that gets bigger when he or she cries, coughs, strains to have a bowel movement, or sits up
  • Vomiting, poor feeding, or constipation
  • Irritability

How is an umbilical hernia diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child and feel his or her abdomen. This is often all that is needed to diagnose the hernia. An ultrasound may be needed in rare cases when the diagnosis is hard to make by exam alone. An ultrasound may show the tissue or organ that is contained within the hernia.

How is an umbilical hernia in children treated?

Many umbilical hernias in children will close on their own by age 4 to 5 and do not need treatment. Your child's healthcare provider may be able to manually reduce the hernia. The provider will put firm, steady pressure on your child's hernia until it disappears behind the abdominal wall. Your child may need surgery to fix the hernia if it does not go away on its own by age 4 to 5, or causes complications. Complications of a hernia happen when the hernia stops blood flow to an organ that is caught inside. The hernia can also block your child's intestines.

How can I manage my child's umbilical hernia?

  • Give your child liquids as directed. Liquids may prevent constipation and straining during a bowel movement. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
  • Feed your child foods that are high in fiber. Fiber may prevent constipation and straining during a bowel movement. Foods that contain fiber include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

  • Do not place anything over your child's umbilical hernia. Do not place tape or a coin over the hernia. This may harm your child.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's hernia gets bigger, is firm, or is blue or purple.
  • Your child's abdomen seems larger, rounder, or more full than normal.
  • Your child stops having bowel movements and stops passing gas.
  • Your child has blood in his or her bowel movement.
  • Your child is crying more than normal or seems like he or she is in pain.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is vomiting.
  • Your child has trouble having a bowel movement.
  • You have questions about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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