Gastroschisis is a birth defect where your baby is born with their organs outside of their body due to their abdominal wall not forming completely in the womb. Surgery is necessary to replace your baby's organs inside their body after birth.
Gastroschisis is a birth defect where your baby’s intestines (stomach, large or small intestines) exit their body from a 2 to 5-centimeter hole beside their belly button during fetal development. This condition happens early during pregnancy when your baby’s abdominal wall doesn’t form correctly, leaving an opening for their organs to escape. Your baby’s organs float in amniotic fluid inside of your uterus, which causes irritation and swelling. Surgery is necessary to replace your baby’s organs inside their body.
Both gastroschisis and omphalocele are birth defects where your baby is born with their abdominal organs outside of their body. The difference is that a membrane covers your baby’s organs with an omphalocele diagnosis, and no membrane covers your baby’s organs during gastroschisis. This difference can usually be seen on ultrasound before your baby is born.
The cause of gastroschisis is unknown, so there is a risk that it could happen to anyone during pregnancy. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that gastroschisis might be more common in younger people who become pregnant and those who use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy.
Gastroschisis is rare and affects around one in 2,000 babies annually in the U.S.
During pregnancy, you will not feel any symptoms of your baby’s gastroschisis. Some findings for the baby on ultrasound may include:
Gastroschisis is the result of your baby’s abdominal wall not forming completely during fetal development in the womb. The direct cause of gastroschisis is unknown. If you are planning to become pregnant, talk with your healthcare provider to discuss ways to prevent birth defects.
A gastroschisis diagnosis occurs either during pregnancy or once your baby is born. Diagnosis usually occurs between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy with routine prenatal tests that check for birth defects in your baby. These tests include:
Although a gastroschisis diagnosis can happen during pregnancy, treatment can’t start until after your baby is born.
Surgery is necessary to place your baby’s organs back inside their body. Surgery also repairs the hole near their belly button to prevent their organs from returning back outside of their body.
Depending on the severity of the condition and how many organs are outside of your baby’s body, there are two types of surgery to relocate your baby’s organs and repair their abdominal wall:
From the time your baby is born to the time of their surgery to repair gastroschisis, your baby’s surgeon will place their exposed organs in a plastic pouch called a silo to prevent infection, dehydration and damage.
After the initial surgery to replace your baby’s organs, additional surgery to repair your baby’s abdomen muscles or intestines may be necessary.
There is a chance that complications could occur after gastroschisis surgery. Post-surgery complications could include:
An intravenous (IV) line in their vein or a nasogastric tube that goes through your baby’s nose, esophagus and into their stomach may be necessary until your baby can eat again.
Up to 25% of babies born with gastroschisis have developmental problems with parts of their intestines. Additional surgery is necessary to address these conditions including:
Babies born with gastroschisis may face some health issues in their lifetime including:
Depending on the severity of your baby’s condition, they will stay in your hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) from two weeks to several months. The duration of their hospital stay is dependent on close monitoring of their treatment to make sure that they are healing properly and can eat and pass food through their digestive system. Additional surgery may be necessary to combat any complications from the condition, which could prolong their stay.
You can reduce your risk of having a baby with gastroschisis by:
Once your baby is born, they will need surgery to return the organs inside the body and close the abdomen. If the opening in your baby’s abdomen is large, your healthcare provider will slowly return your baby’s organs over a few days or weeks after birth.
Your baby will be on IVs while they recover from surgery in the hospital to give them nutrients and antibiotics to prevent infection. Your baby will not be able to drink breastmilk or formula immediately after birth and surgery. Your healthcare provider will advise on when it is safe to begin feeding your baby breastmilk or formula.
If gastroschisis is the only health condition affecting your baby, they will likely make a full recovery and grow and develop normally. There is a risk that digestive and gastrointestinal complications could arise later in your baby’s life, but your baby’s healthcare provider will discuss the prognosis with you.
It's best to deliver your baby in a hospital with specialists who are able to care for your baby’s condition in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Babies with gastroschisis may be safely born vaginally or by cesarean section (c-section). Your obstetrician will help you to determine the delivery method best for your baby.
After surgery, you should visit your baby’s healthcare provider if your baby experiences:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While it may be scary for you to see your baby born with their organs outside of their body, the prognosis after surgery to replace their organs into their body is very positive. Your healthcare provider will be available to answer any questions that you might have about your baby’s condition and guide you through their surgery and recovery process in the hospital.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/19/2022.
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