An umbilical hernia in an infant occurs when the muscle through which the umbilical cord passes does not close completely after birth.
Umbilical hernias are common in infants. They occur slightly more often in African Americans. Most umbilical hernias are not related to disease. Some umbilical hernias are linked with rare conditions such as Down syndrome.
An umbilical hernia is an outward bulging (protrusion) of the lining of the abdomen or part of the abdominal organ(s) through the area around the belly button.
A hernia is usually found by the health care provider during a physical exam.
Most umbilical hernias get better without treatment by the time the child is 3 to 4 years old. If surgery is needed, it is usually successful.
Strangulation of intestine tissue is rare, but serious, and needs surgery right away.
There is no known way to prevent an umbilical hernia. Taping or strapping an umbilical hernia will not make it go away.
A hernia can vary in width from less than 1 centimeter (cm) to more than 5 cm.
There is a soft swelling over the belly button that often bulges when the baby sits up, cries, or strains. The bulge may be flat when the infant lies on the back and is quiet. Umbilical hernias are usually painless.
Most hernias in children heal on their own. Surgery to repair the hernia is needed only in the following cases:
Call your provider or go to the emergency room if the infant is very fussy or seems to have bad abdominal pain or if the hernia becomes tender, swollen, or discolored.
Carlo WA, Ambalavanan N. The umbilicus. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 105.
Weber TR. Umbilical and other abdominal wall hernias. In: Holcomb GW, Murphy JP, Ostlie DJ, eds. Ashcraft's Pediatric Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 49.
Review Date: 9/5/2017
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 9-1-1 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only—they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.