Hernia in Babies

Sounds weird, but umbilical and inguinal hernias are common for babies. Got more questions? We’ve got answers.
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By Jennifer L.W. Fink, Registered Nurse
Updated March 2, 2017
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What is a hernia in a baby?

A hernia is a protrusion of an internal body part. Hernias often appear as  lumps or bumps (that may come and go) because the internal organ (usually the intestine) is pushing through a weak spot in the abdomen and making itself visible.

The most common hernias in infants and toddlers are umbilical and inguinal hernias. Umbilical hernias typically occur in younger babies and go away by baby’s first birthday. “A lot of newborns, when they cry, their belly button pushes out. That’s usually something they grow out of as their abdominal muscles get stronger,” says Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.
Inguinal hernias occur in the groin area instead of around the belly button. They’re more common in boys than girls, and they typically require surgery.

What are the symptoms of a hernia in a baby?

Parents usually notice a soft bump or lump near their child’s belly button or where the torso meets the thigh. The lump may come and go; crying often makes the hernia more visible, because it increases abdominal pressure and pushes the hernia to the surface.

Rarely, the lump will be hard and painful. If that’s the case, take your child to a hospital immediately. The intestine may be twisted and “stuck,” and that’s a medical emergency.

Are there any tests for hernias in babies?

Hernias are usually diagnosed based on baby’s symptoms, although a doctor may order an abdominal X-ray or ultrasound to learn more about the hernia, especially if the hernia is hard and unmovable.

How common are hernias in babies?

More common than you may think. About 10 percent of all babies have an umbilical hernia. And 1 to 3 percent of all kids develop an inguinal hernia.

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How did my baby get a hernia?

Babies aren’t fully developed. While they’re developing in utero, there are openings in the abdominal wall. One opening, for instance, allows the umbilical cord to pass from mom to baby. Another (in boys) allows the testes, which develop in the body, to descend into the scrotum. These openings gradually close after birth, but a baby can develop a hernia if the openings haven’t fully shut.

What’s the best way to treat a hernia in a baby?

Umbilical hernias typically don’t require treatment; they usually go away by a child’s first birthday. If they don’t go away by the time the child is three or four years old, he may need surgery.

Inguinal hernias need surgery. Baby’s pediatrician will refer your child to a qualified pediatric surgeon, who will push the intestines back into their proper position and secure them by stitching the abdominal muscles together over the top. Sometimes, a special piece of surgical mesh will also be used to reinforce the area. Hernia surgery occurs under general anesthesia, and baby can usually go home the same day he has the procedure.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting a hernia?

You can’t. Hernias are a product of physical anatomy.

What do other moms do when their babies have hernias?

“When we were in getting [my son’s] ears checked yesterday, we pointed out a bump above his belly button that we’d noticed the day before. His doctor told us it’s a ventral hernia. He said it’s nothing of concern for now, but we’d need to keep an eye on it and he may need surgery a few years down the road.”

“My son had an inguinal hernia repaired just after his first birthday. I was a wreck, but it was totally a piece of cake. By the next day, you would’ve never known he’d had it done. There were no changes in his diapers at all. We were strictly using disposable diapers at the time but no change in pee or poo. You may want to have a few disposables on hand if they tell you to put any creams or anything on the incision site but we didn’t do anything like that. Also. you may want a couple of diapers at the hospital for the actual surgery. I had to weigh my naked son and then put on a new diaper for the OR. In fact, they might insist that he be in a disposable because everything needs to be sterile and nothing from home can go into the OR. They did let my son have his pacifier, but that was it.”

“My daughter had [a hernia] as well. It popped up maybe a day before she came home from the hospital. My pediatrician told us that it will go down on its own probably within the next year. They won’t even consider surgery until she’s two or three years old.”

Are there any other resources for hernias in babies?

The Bump expert: Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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