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What is an Umbilical Hernia, and is it a Problem?
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What is an Umbilical Hernia, and is it a Problem?

Written by
Juli Albright
Juli is our patient advocate and community connection. She balances work, life and family with grace.
Juli is our patient advocate and community connection. She balances work, life and family with grace.

What is an Umbilical Hernia, and is it a Problem?


In the womb, the cord connecting the fetus to the mother is the umbilical cord. Babies have a narrow opening between their abdominal walls, and the umbilical cord passes through it. During the natural process, the opening must typically close soon after the baby is born.

An umbilical hernia occurs when this natural process does not complete as it should. When the layers of the abdominal walls do not join completely or well enough, the hernia starts forming. You see, the tissues and intestines find a cavity in the abdominal area to bulge through. This is why when a baby develops an umbilical hernia, you will see a protrusion of a sort out of the weak spot of their belly button.

Is Umbilical Hernia a Problem?

An umbilical hernia is not very prevalent, but it does occur in 20% of babies after birth. Most hernias don’t develop till adolescence or adulthood, but umbilical hernia does exist in 20%of babies since birth. Although this condition is the most common among babies, yet adults can have it too.

This form of hernia is painless generally, and those who have it do not suffer any discomfort. In fact, judging by the normal pattern of it, an umbilical hernia tends to close naturally by the time the child is five. Typically surgeons will recommend waiting until at least that age before taking action.

Adult Umbilical Hernia

Like we mentioned above, adults can develop umbilical hernias too. This is especially possible in those who are overweight, cough persistently, or lift heavyweights. Women with multiple pregnancies often are at higher risks of umbilical hernia.

You will find this condition more prevalent in adult females, but in babies, it affects both genders equally.

Umbilical Hernia - Causes

This condition occurs when the abdominal walls fail to do their part. The opening between muscles allows the cord to pass through, but after birth, this opening must close. When the wall layers do not close completely, the intestines and other tissues start forming loops and push against the weak belly button spot.

Stats tell us that babies with low birth weight, premature babies, and African-American babies have higher risks of this hernia. But there is no difference in its occurrence in the percentage of genders it affects.

Adults develop these conditions when they exert too much pressure, for some reason, on their abdominal muscles and their weaker section. Some of those reasons include;

·      Suffering from persistent and heavy coughing

·      Abdominal surgery

·      Weightlifting

·      Their abdominal cavity having excess liquid

·      Having twins, triplets, or multiple gestation pregnancies

·      Frequent pregnancies

·      Being overweight

·      Repetitive vomiting

·      Prolonged constipation

·      Having an enlarged prostate and having difficulty urinating

·      Obesity

·      Straining during childbirth


The best way of diagnosing this problem is when you go for your regular physical examination at the health care providers. In the case of adults, a doctor feels for bulges or swelling around your belly button area as part of the physical exam. When he/she finds an unusual bump or swelling, they are able to verify that it is an umbilical hernia.

In the case of a baby, diagnosing this condition means observing the belly button area when he/she cries. You will find the swelling around the weak spot becoming more prominent when the baby cries. But when the baby quietens and calms down, you will note the swelling growing smaller and disappearing. This swelling will also subside when the baby is lying on its back.

The doctor can also run another small test to verify whether or not the hernia is reducible. The doctor will push into the abdominal cavity, and if the hernia goes back, then it means the problem. At the same time, if this does not happen, then medical experts will probe further to determine if the problem is serious.

In order to confirm if a person’s umbilical hernia has become incarcerated, the doctor will run through their complete medical history. If the examination proves that the abdominal opening has trapped the hernia, then the problem is truly serious. It indicates that your abdominal muscles are trapping the protruding intestine and depriving it of blood supply.

A doctor may also find it necessary to run a blood test if he/she wants to look for signs of infection. This can occur as a result of your strangulated intestine. If you consult a doctor for your hernia problems, you may very well likely have to undergo a CT scan, an MRI, a barium X-ray, and others for a closer examination of the hernia. However, you will only have to go through these tests if your hernia is no longer reducible.

In such an event, you must note that the intestine has chances of turning necrotic. You must repair it immediately by removing the affected intestine surgically.


If one is suffering from a strangulated umbilical hernia, the symptoms most likely to occur are:

·      Vomiting

·      Purple, red, discolored, or dark bulge

·      Full and round abdomen

·      Fever

·      Constipation

·      Abdominal tenderness and pain

·      The bulge in both babies and adults is too swollen or tender

In children, you can look for signs of a hernia whenever your baby is laughing, straining to use the loo, or even crying. When you see a telltale bulge appearing near their umbilical area, you’ll know that it is a most likely hernia. Another sign is to look for the bulge when your child is relaxing if you note the protrusion is relaxing or disappearing. Then too, it is a sign of this condition.

Fortunately, umbilical hernias are painful for children, but in the case of adults, it can be different. While the main symptom remains the same, a bulge or swelling in the navel area, the pain level is vastly different.

For adults, these conditions can be very painful, and in most cases, they have to undergo surgical treatment.

Umbilical Hernia and Related Complications

Generally, as long as the hernia is reducible and does not qualify as a serious problem, you can rest your fear of complications at ease. In children, complications are not at all common but only happen rarely and in exceptional cases.

The situation where a complication can arise is when either a child’s or an adult’s hernia has become incarcerated. But do you why this happens? It occurs when the affected intestine loses its blood supply or when the abdominal walls do not allow the problematic intestines to push through.

As a result, a person or child can experience severe pain the tissues can even die. In such a case, it is necessary to visit the emergency room or meet a doctor in case of intestine strangulation or obstruction.


Treatment Option

Only a doctor can determine which hernia patient requires treatment and when. The form of treatment also depends on the specific case and many factors, including the patient’s medical history, general health, and age. Other major factors also include whether the hernia is strangulated or reducible.

As is the natural course, in the case of babies, the umbilical hernia usually closes before a child has completed five years of age. In fact, many children are cured of the problem at the age of one. In fact, it is most common for babies with an umbilical hernia to heal on their own without needing any medical treatment, let alone surgery.

The only cases where a child cannot prevent surgery is when his/her hernia refuses to reduce or go past the age of three or four. In that case, the doctor may deem it necessary to remove the problem through surgery.

If a doctor is unable to massage back or push back the hernia into its rightful place in the abdomen and it continues to strangulate, then immediate surgery is imminent. During the surgery, the patient receives general anesthesia, under which he/she receives a small incision in the belly button or umbilicus.

Once the surgeon successfully places the loop of the intestine back into the cavity of the abdomen, they close the incision. Often surgeons also use a mesh material to strengthen the person’s area where the muscles undergo repair.

Risks of Surgery

The surgery for this condition is pretty straightforward, and the chances of risks are slim. In rare cases, the complications that can occur include:

·      Fever

·      Vomiting or nausea

·      Numb feeling in the legs

·      Headaches

·      Recurrence of the hernia

·      Infection at the wound site

Final Thoughts

An umbilical hernia is a more common occurrence in babies since birth. This condition develops when the abdominal walls do not close properly after passing the umbilical cord. As a result, a loop of intestines pushes against the weak spot of the belly button.

In cases of children, this condition tends to heal on its own, at the age of three or four. However, only if the problem persists past this age or the hernia becomes incarcerated will the child need medical attention. In the case of adults, typically physicians recommend treatment if the umbilical hernia is causing discomfort. In the case of a tummy tuck, many plastic surgeons recommend treatment before tummy tuck surgery if the umbilical hernia is causing discomfort.

If you are considering tummy tuck surgery, meet with a board-certified plastic surgeon to assess you for umbilical hernias and discuss treatment options.

Written by
Juli Albright

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