Why is My Baby’s Belly Button Bulging?

baby's belly button bulging

It. Can. Freak. A. Parent. Out. When Baby cries or coughs, the belly button, or umbilicus, can protrude in a lump or cone shape and then recede when Baby is calm. What is the reason for this?

The pediatric group here at Alzein Pediatrics knows that, while you’re thinking there might be a rare type of alien in your child’s belly, it’s actually an umbilical hernia and these are very common.

What is a Hernia?

A hernia forms when tissue protrudes through a weakened section of muscle. When the hernia forms, where it forms, and what kind of tissue protrudes determine whether we take a “wait and see” approach or we refer your child for one of the 1 million annual hernia surgeries.

Most hernias form because the abdominal muscles aren’t strong enough to support the intestines. Hernias happen as people age and also very early in life, as our children’s muscles develop. One particularly vulnerable spot for infants is the belly button, where the umbilical cord passed through the abdominal wall. Up to 20% of babies are born with an umbilical hernia.

What is an Umbilical Hernia?

You might notice an umbilical hernia in your infant when watching the belly button when your baby cries or coughs. A protrusion will form at the belly button as the infant strains and typically draws back in when the infant is soothed. Umbilical hernias form because your baby’s muscles haven’t yet fully closed yet and most umbilical hernias will close on their own in an infant’s first two years. Sometimes, umbilical hernias may need longer to close but umbilical hernias that don’t resolve on their own between the ages of 3 and 5 will likely require surgery.

What is an Inguinal Hernia?

Less common than the umbilical hernia is the inguinal hernia when the lower abdominal muscles fail to fully form and the intestines protrude into the groin area. 90% of all infant inguinal hernias are in boys, and they occur in 1 to 5% of full-term, healthy baby boys. Inguinal hernias can also form early in life as muscles develop, with higher rates of occurrence through age 6. Inguinal hernias can sometimes be difficult to notice, as it can take time for the protrusion to develop. The protrusion will form near the groin or scrotum and will be more noticeable when coughing. An inguinal hernia may ache or become painful, and increase in size over time. This lack of muscle development can have a genetic component or be a complication of premature birth; inguinal hernias occur in up to 30% of preterm babies.

Unfortunately, inguinal hernias don’t resolve on their own. Inguinal hernias may present serious health risks because the protrusion can cut off the intestine’s blood supply. When the blood supply is constrained, the protrusion tissue is strangulated, leading to infection or tissue death. Surgery is almost always required and accounts for the bulk of those 1 million hernia surgeries every year.

Can Hernias be Prevented?

Hernias are not caused by anything a parent or caregiver did or neglected to do; they cannot be prevented in infants and young children.

If you suspect your infant, toddler or small child has a hernia, call Alzein Pediatric group at 708-424-7600 or click here to make an appointment. Prompt and accurate diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment will resolve a hernia and your child should recover completely, with no lasting complications.

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