An umbilical hernia is characterized by a portion of the intestine poking through an abdominal muscle opening.

This opening is also where the umbilical cord passes through during the fetal stage. This condition can affect people of all ages, but it is most often seen in infants.


As babies are developing in the womb, their abdominal muscles have a small opening for the umbilical cord to pass through. Shortly after birth, this closes. However, in the abdominal wall midline, if there is not a complete joining of the muscles, this hernia can occur.

When it happens during adulthood, it is typically attributed to intense abdominal pressure. This pressure can result from:

  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Previous abdominal surgery
  • Obesity
  • The abdominal cavity filling with fluid
  • Undergoing peritoneal dialysis long-term to treat kidney failure
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When this hernia is present, the navel area will have a bulge or soft swelling in the area. When this issue is present in a baby, parents may not notice the abnormality until their baby coughs, cries or strains. In adults, it is possible for this condition to cause discomfort, but babies often experience no pain.

Certain symptoms may indicate an umbilical hernia emergency in babies. These include:

  • The baby is vomiting
  • The baby is in pain
  • At the hernia site, there is swelling, tenderness, or discoloration

It is rare for children to experience complications. However, if the tissues that are protruding become incarcerated, this can reduce the supply of blood to the area. This can result in tissue damage and umbilical pain. Adults may also experience this complication.


A physical examination is often all a doctor needs to do to diagnose an umbilical hernia. If they suspect that the patient may have related complications, they might recommend certain imaging studies to get a closer look. These may include a CT scan of the abdomen or an abdominal ultrasound.


By age one or two, the majority of these hernias will close on their own. In some cases, the bulge can be pushed back into the abdomen by the doctor when they are performing a physical exam. It is important that parents do not try alternative treatment methods to push the hernia back in. This could result in injury to the child.

Surgery might be warranted for children if they meet the following criteria:

  • The hernia is causing pain
  • After their second birthday, the hernia does not get smaller
  • The tissue gets trapped
  • The size of the hernia exceeds 0.5 inches
  • The hernia blocks the intestine
  • By age four, the hernia is still present

Doctors might recommend surgery to adults if their hernia is painful or growing. It may also be done to prevent the patient from experiencing complications.

During the procedure, the tissue that is herniated is put back into the abdominal cavity. Stitches are used to close the abdominal wall opening.

A doctor should evaluate any suspected umbilical hernia. They will work with their patient to determine which type of treatment is needed to correct the issue.

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