What is an umbilical hernia?
An umbilical hernia is a swelling under the skin at the umbilicus (tummy button). After birth, the umbilical cord dries up and falls off. A few babies are left with a weakness at the umbilicus through which the contents of the tummy can bulge, especially when the baby cries or strains. Umbilical hernias are more common in girls.
Can an umbilical hernia get better without an operation?
Yes. In fact, most umbilical hernias close on their own as the child grows.
Those that have not closed on their own by 3 years of age are less likely to close completely.
Does an umbilical hernia have to be repaired?
No, but the umbilicus is likely to stick out a little more than usual and may cause problems in adult life. It is rare for anything inside the tummy to get stuck in an umbilical hernia in a child.
What does the operation involve?
The operation is done under a short general anaesthetic. Once your child is ‘asleep’ the surgeon makes a small cut in the skin crease under the umbilicus and then closes the weakness between the muscles with strong stitches. Any extra skin around the umbilicus is usually left in place as it tends to shrink as the child grows. If there is a lot of extra skin, then some of it may be removed to make the tummy button look neater.
The skin is closed with dissolving stitches and a clear plastic dressing put on the wound. A local anaesthetic injection is often given during the procedure to reduce soreness after the operation. Repair of an umbilical hernia usually takes about 15-20 minutes. Your child will be in the operating theatre for longer because it takes time to safely put her/him to sleep and to wake her/him from the anaesthetic. After the operation she/he will be transferred to a recovery area where you will be able to join them.
Are there any complications of the operation?
Repair of an umbilical hernia is usually straightforward. Complications are rare.
- Complications of the anaesthetic
Your anaesthetist is the best person to discuss these.
2. General complications of any operation
Minor bruising around the wound may occur. If the wound becomes red and increasingly sore, then there may be a wound infection. You should see your family doctor as your child may need antibiotics.
- Specific complications of the operation
A recurrent hernia — this is rare but more likely if your child is overweight. It is common to feel a small lump
- under the wound for the first few weeks after the operation due to the stitches and scar tissue – this is not a recurrent hernia.
- An untidy umbilicus — particularly if there was lots of extra skin before the operation.
- Damage to structures within the hernia (such as the bowel) is very rare.
When will my child be able to go home after the operation?
The operation is typically carried out as a ‘day case’ so that your child is able to go home later the same day. You will be advised to give her/him regular doses of a painkiller such as Paracetamol during the first 24 hours after the operation.
When can my child resume
Your child can have a quick bath or shower the next day. The plastic dressing can be peeled off after one week if it is still there. Older children can usually return to school after a few days and resume sports about 2 weeks after the operation. The general rule is “if it hurts, wait a bit longer before trying again”.