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What is an Umbilical Hernia?


While many tend to have the perception that hernias can only affect adults or children, as the idea is that they are mainly caused by heavy lifting, straining, or chronic cough; the truth is infants can also develop this condition. A hernia happens when there is a weakness or hole in the muscular wall, producing a protruding bulge in the area where it is affected. As such, an umbilical hernia can be found near the belly button area.

As many are aware, infants are connected to their mothers in the womb from an umbilical cord, which filters nutrients to an unborn baby as it grows from within. The umbilical cord is connected through the small opening in the abdominal muscles. Once the cord is cut shortly after birth, these abdominal muscles should close; however if this does not happen, fatty tissues or part of the bowel can bulge or poke through, ultimately causing a hernia in infants and babies. This hernia can also develop in expecting mothers, and those who suffer obesity.

As with any illness in babies, an umbilical hernia can be hard to pinpoint, simply because your infant cannot communicate any underlying issues they may be experiencing. Mix in the fact that babies can cry for numerous reasons, and you have a situation where sleep deprived parents can often find it hard to diagnose an umbilical hernia. There are some signs and symptoms a guardian and caregiver can look out for. First and foremost, the protruding bulge in a baby’s abdominal area may only be visible when crying, coughing, or straining during a bowel movement; and disappear once the infant has calmed down, or is sleeping. The lump may also be swollen and tender to the touch. Other symptoms for infants include irritability, constipation, discomfort, fever, and vomiting.

If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms, it is important to advise your pediatrician, or seek medical attention. While this condition in infants is not always harmful, and at times can heal its own; diagnosis from a doctor can help avoid any further issues, and monitor the hernia. Once it is established that your baby does have this type of hernia, doctors may refrain from surgery options, as more often than not, the hernia can close by itself. However, if it has not healed on its own by the age of four, surgery might be required. As umbilical hernias cannot heal on their own in adults; doctors will typically recommend surgery right away, to prevent any further complications.