Is an umbilical hernia in a newborn cause for concern?

September 28, 2016 Angela M. Hanna

one year old baby observing his own belly button


In this article:

  • Most umbilical hernias are harmless.

  • If the hernia doesn’t resolve naturally by age 5, your doctor may recommend a repair.

  • Talk to your child’s Swedish physician if they experience any pain or discomfort from an umbilical hernia.

Most parents are probably too busy making sure their newborn has 10 fingers, 10 toes and two ears to pay attention to whether their child’s belly button is an innie or an outie. An outie belly button can be caused by an umbilical hernia, which usually is harmless. But sometimes these hernias need to be repaired when a child is older to prevent complications.

An umbilical hernia occurs when the ring of muscle around the belly button doesn’t close after birth and fat or intestine pushes through. Hence the term outie.


Parents will notice a bulge or swelling under their newborn’s belly button skin, usually after the umbilical cord falls off. It’s normal for the hernia to look larger and firmer when a child is straining or crying.  

What are the symptoms?

Most children with an umbilical hernia do not have any symptoms and seem to be comfortable. In very rare cases, the intestines can get stuck in the hernia (known as incarceration) and cause intestinal blockage. This can lead to abdominal distention, severe pain or vomiting. But again, these occurrences are incredibly rare.  

Will an umbilical hernia go away? 

In most cases, an umbilical hernia will go away by itself. This requires closure of the ring of muscles that allowed the tissue protrusion at birth, which may take a few years. 

If the hernia does not go away by the time a child is 3 to 5 years old, we usually recommend that it be repaired. 

How is an umbilical hernia repaired? 

An umbilical hernia is usually fixed during outpatient surgery, meaning your child goes home the same day as the procedure. After a child is placed under general anesthesia, the surgeon makes a small incision along a belly button skin crease, places the herniated tissue back in the abdomen and closes the hole with dissolvable stitches that don’t require further attention.

Infants and toddlers usually resume activity as tolerated. Older children are required to avoid rough play, contact sports, bicycle riding and playground climbing equipment for two to four weeks and until they are pain-free. Most children are back to school one to two days after surgery. 

Find a doctor

If you have questions about pediatric umbilical hernias, contact the pediatrics department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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