Umbilical Hernia in Babies: What is it and when is it serious?

Baby's belly button is popping out - is it dangerous? Get the facts straight! 👶🏻


Making sure that the umbilical cord stump heals without any problem or infection is one of the biggest milestones parents are always anxious to cross off their list. A stump that does not heal immediately, or a belly button that has become enlarged can be a major cause of concern for new parents. Although belly button worries are common and often resolve on their own, it’s important for parents to learn about umbilical hernia, its treatment, and the warning signs that mean a trip to the emergency room is necessary. 

What is umbilical hernia? 

Umbilical Hernia is an abnormal bulge in the belly button. During the normal development in-utero, the abdominal muscles below the navel close to form the umbilical ring. Sometimes, the muscles do not completely close even after the baby is born. The bulge is a result of intestines pushing through the opening. 

Umbilical hernia commonly occurs to infants that are younger than six months. Some of the symptoms of umbilical hernia include the following: 

  • Bulging or swelling around the area of the belly button; and
  • Increased pressure to the abdomen – especially when the baby is distressed or crying – can cause the bulge to become bigger and harder.

Usually, umbilical hernias are not painful. A bulge in the belly button occurs to 20% of newborn children. Doctors and care providers diagnose umbilical hernia through physical examination. 

How is umbilical hernia treated? 

By age 3 or 4, a child’s umbilical hernia closes on its own. When this natural healing does not occur, surgery may be necessary especially if the hernia becomes hardened, incarcerated, or strangulated. Surgery for umbilical hernia is simple, and is usually considered as an outpatient treatment. Through a small incision below the belly button, doctors will push back any intestine stuck in the opening. The opening is then closed will multiple stitches to ensure the hernia will not return. 

Warning Signs to Look Out For

Umbilical hernia may not always pose a major threat to a child’s health, but certain warning signs connected to a possible complication should be noted. Some of the red flags to look out for include: 

  • Swelling;
  • Discoloration;
  • Vomiting;
  • Tenderness; and
  • Extreme pain.

If these signs are present before or after a surgery, proceed to the emergency room immediately. Regular appointments with a pediatrician is one of the best ways to keep the hernia in check. 

If you suspect your child has umbilical hernia, don’t panic – it’s common. However, don’t forget to bring it up to your pediatrician or your care provider to ensure this common concern doesn’t turn into a serious medical condition.


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