Have you or someone you know expressed concern over an extremely "outie" bellybutton on a newborn? If so, the infant is probably one of many babies that has an umbilical hernia. About 10 to 20 percent of all babies will have a herniated bellybutton, with increased risk for those who are premature, girls, or African-American. Although the herniation is most common in newborns, they can still appear suddenly up until a few months after birth.
A herniated bellybutton is simply a ring of muscle that has not closed together. Think of your child's abdomen as a sheet of muscle covering their intestines. The umbilical cord goes in through a small opening in this sheet, and a hernia is formed when the umbilical cord detaches prior to the muscles closing back together. The lining and fluid around the intestines (not the actual intestines themselves) are usually what is poking through to cause the skin to 'poof out' where the bellybutton is. Most umbilical hernias are less than an inch across and may become more or less evident when the baby moves.
Many people fear that their child is in pain from the hernia, but in actuality they are rarely even bothersome. As a matter of fact, your doctor may push the hernia back in when checking it, and this also causes no pain. Unless the hernia becomes infected, swollen within the herniated area, or changes color, your doctor will probably tell you that it is nothing to worry about.
This may seem like a tall order for parents who were hoping to view their perfect little bundle of joy with their perfect baby bellybutton. Fortunately, most umbilical hernias go away on their own by the child's first birthday, and the rest of them usually heal before five years of age. If your child is one of them who still has a hernia after the age of five, your doctor may recommend a small surgery to close the gap. The surgery is relatively easy and your child will likely be released home the same day. There are almost no complications following this type of surgery, but many doctors will not do the surgery until at least age 2, and then only if the hernia is causing problems.
Don't be afraid to wash the herniated area gently with soap and water, just as you would with any other newborn. There is no evidence that the hernia will go away quicker if you tape a nickel over their bellybutton (as it used to be suggested), but the tape may give your child a rash. If you think pushing in the hernia will help, a pair of normal-fitting elastic band pants will do the job just as well, but without causing your baby unnecessary discomfort.
Make sure to alert your doctor to the hernia at well-visits so that he can check the area and give you an update on its progress. Herniated bellybuttons in newborns are mostly just a cosmetic issue, and should go away on their own. For now just relax, and be thankful that your child is happy and healthy!
Disclosure: I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV either! I don't claim to know all the facts or have all the answers. Please consult with your doctor or your child's doctor before making any big health decisions. I received no compensation for this post.
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