A hernia is a lump of differing sizes. It is found anywhere under the skin, but most likely in the tummy or groin with babies. A baby hernia happens when your baby’s muscles haven’t developed properly yet and are unable to keep everything in place.
Usually, the muscles in the pelvis and tummy form a protective barrier to keep organs in, most particularly the intestines. However, where a hernia occurs, there is actually a gap in this wall. This gap can allow a part of the intestine to come through, as well as tissue and fluid. This then creates a, usually visible, bulge under the skin.
Two Types of Baby Hernias
There are two general types of baby hernias:
• The inguinal hernia, which is found in the groin, sometimes going up towards the tummy. Around 5% of babies are born with this.
• The umbilical hernia, which is found around the belly bottom. It is quite a common condition, particularly in babies that are of African ethnicity.
The diaphragmatic hernia also exists, but this is incredibly rare.
When a woman falls pregnant, the developing baby has a large gap in the muscles of its tummy. This gap slowly closes during gestation. If this doesn’t happen properly, the baby is born with a hernia. Hernias are quite common, particularly in boys. They are also very common in premature babies, because their muscles haven’t had time to grow properly before they are born.
How Do I Know if My Baby Has a Hernia?
It is likely that you will spot a baby’s hernia as soon as they are born. In fact, your doctor or midwife will probably spot it as soon as they deliver your baby. There are situations in which it can take a while for the hernia to become apparent, however. For instance, you may notice that the hernia becomes visible when the baby tenses its stomach muscles, for instance when it is coughing, crying or emptying its bowels.
It is very important to seek medical attention for a hernia straight away. In a worst case scenario, the bowel could get trapped or squeezed, where the hernia becomes strangulated. This is a medical emergency that is possibly life threatening, which shows the seriousness of the situation. If you notice any of the following, seek medical attention straight away:
• The baby lump is hard and doesn’t go soft when the baby stops crying or coughing
• Your baby is in pain when the lump is touched
• Your baby is unwell and begins to vomit
The Problems that Hernias Can Cause
More often than not, an umbilical hernia will disappear by itself. Your child will continue to grow and their muscles will become stronger. It is very rare for them to become a problem. Hence, only if the hernia persists or is very large will surgery be recommended.
With inguinal hernias, however, the bowel could get trapped, leading to a medical emergency. This is why it is likely that your baby will be operated on straight away, to avoid this very real danger. You will also be taught how to look out for signs, because it is common for children to develop a second inguinal hernia on the other side later on in life.
Usually, a doctor will be able to gently push the hernia back into position. This is not something you should do yourself, as it could lead to injury. The only other treatment for a hernia is surgery and this operation is incredibly common in children.
During surgery, the bowel is pushed back into place and the muscles are stitched shut over them. Your child will be placed under general anesthetic for this procedure. After surgery, you may have to give your child some pain relief medication, which will be prescribed by the doctor.
If there is reason to believe a second hernia will develop, which is common with inguinal hernias, your surgeon will usually check the other side during surgery and possibly stitch the muscles preventatively. However, this depends on the surgeons, because some believe this preventative hernia surgery is not actually worth the potential risks.