Umbilical Hernia: Symptoms & Causes

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Umbilical hernias are especially common in infants and young babies, but may occur in adults as well. Read this lesson to learn the general symptoms and causes of this navel bulge.

A Strange Bump

Jess is the first time mother of baby Felix. Now that Jess must return to work, she enlists the help of a neighbor, a retired nurse, to watch Felix during the day.

Jess misses her son and looks forward to picking him up. When she arrives to get Felix, her neighbor points out the protrusion, a bulge where Felix's umbilicus or navel is located. Concerned that the protrusion could be a medical issue, Jess decides to take the baby to a doctor to have it checked out.

An Umbilical Hernia

Baby Felix is uncomfortable while the doctor completes a physical assessment and begins to cry. The protrusion at his navel is obvious now, making the doctor believe he has an umbilical hernia. The doctor explains that a hernia is the protrusion of internal tissue coming through a protective muscular wall. In the case of Felix's umbilical hernia, a piece of intestine has pushed past the abdominal wall and out through his navel. Common symptoms of umbilical hernia include the following:

  • A protrusion, or fleshy bulge at the navel
  • An appearance of the bulge at the navel during coughing, sneezing, or crying
  • Seen in patients less than two years of age

As babies are forming in the womb, they are connected to their mother by an umbilical cord. For the cord to pass blood, oxygen, and other vital nutrients to the growing baby, it enters the baby's body through the abdomen, leaving a gap in the muscle even when the cord is no longer there.

Baby abdominal wall with and without an umbilical hernia
umbilical hernia

The doctor sees the concerned look on Jess's face and explains that umbilical hernias are fairly common in babies and children under two years of age. It is not likely that Felix experiences any pain as a result of his hernia.

Potential for Concern

The doctor is grateful over Jess's concern for her baby, and explains that she did the right thing by bringing Felix in. In babies, umbilical hernias are usually benign and not considered harmful. Usually umbilical hernias heal on their own over time and they do not require surgery. To ensure that the hernia is not causing any complications, Felix is ordered to have an X-ray image of the area to check the function of his intestines.

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