A hernia is frequently thought of as an adult ailment, but many infants and toddlers develop a hernia early in life. A hernia is when an organ, such as part of the intestine or tissue is protruding through a weakened part of the abdominal wall causing a bulge. Luckily hernias are not a lifelong condition and can easily be repaired or at times repair on their own.
Hernias more times than not have no symptoms other than a visible bulge. The bulge may vary in size. If the blood supply is cut off to the area that is protruding through the abdominal wall your infant or toddler may feel pain, vomit, and the bulge may be larger and harder than usual. If this should occur it is imperative that immediate medical attention be obtained because emergency surgery will be required.
Infants often develop a hernia within the first few months of life because the abdominal wall is still very weak. Many times the hernia may be most noticeable when your infant or toddler is crying, straining, coughing, or constipated. There are two types of hernias that are most often seen in infants and toddlers. They are umbilical, and inguinal hernias.
Inguinal hernias are located in the groin area. They are most common in boys but are also seen in girls. About one to three percent of children develop an inguinal hernia. This type of hernia is often seen in premature infants. Unfortunately almost always surgery is required for an inguinal hernia because they will not repair themselves.
Umbilical hernias are located in the belly button area. They occur because the abdominal area where the umbilical cord was attached does not fully close. This causes the belly button to look very large. Umbilical hernias are quite common, afflicting ten percent of children. This type of hernia is most common in girls and premature infants. The umbilical hernia normally repairs itself by one year of age. Often many physicians will leave the hernia alone until the child is six years old when the majority of cases have healed themselves. If at any time the blood supply is cut off to the area that is bulging out emergency surgery is required immediately.
Many times x-rays and/or an ultrasound of the area is requested to get a better look at the hernia and its severity. Surgery is the only treatment for hernias. When an infant or toddler have surgery for a hernia, the child is placed under general anesthesia, an incision is made, the intestine/tissue is placed back into the correct area, many times a mesh material is placed in the area of the hernia to help strengthen the abdominal wall, then the incision is sutured. The healing time is not very long, your surgeon will give you specific instructions. Then you can finally take your baby home.
“Hernia (Umbilical or Inguinal)” Children’s Hospital Boston