When should an umbilical hernia in children be repaired?

More than 90% of umbilical hernias heal on their own by the time the child is 3 to 4 years old. Therefore, your surgeon will probably recommend waiting until your child is 3 or 4 before advising surgical repair. However, if the umbilical hernia is incarcerated or the defect is greater than 2 cm (about ¾ inch) in diameter, it is less likely to heal spontaneously and may need to be surgically repaired.

What should I know before my child’s surgery?

Umbilical surgery takes about an hour and is usually performed as an outpatient procedure (which means the patient can go home the same day of the procedure).

Strict guidelines are enforced regarding the child's diet the morning of the surgery. These will help reduce the risk of vomiting and aspiration (inhaling fluids) while your child is under anesthesia. Your surgeon’s specific guidelines will be closely reviewed with you before your child’s surgery.

What happens during the surgery?

  • An anesthesiologist (a doctor who specializes in sedation and pain relief) gives your child general anesthesia, which relaxes your child's muscles and induces sleep. Your child will not feel pain during the surgery.
  • A small incision, or cut (from 1 to 3 cm, approximately 1/3 inch to 1 ¼ inch), is made at the base of the belly button.
  • The hernia "sac" containing the bulging intestine is identified.
  • The surgeon pushes the intestine back into its proper place behind the muscle wall.
  • The hernia sac is removed.
  • The muscle wall is reinforced with multiple layers of stitches to prevent another hernia.
  • The skin around the belly button is sewn down to the underlying muscle.

Most children will be able to go home a few hours after surgery. However, premature infants and children with certain medical conditions may need to spend one night in the hospital for observation.

How do I care for my child after surgery?

Usually, your child will feel fine again the evening after surgery or by the next morning. You may be given a prescription for pain medication. Most parents find that only a few doses are all the child needs for pain control. After that, over-the-counter pain relievers are usually enough to keep the child comfortable.

As soon as your child is able, he or she can resume normal eating habits.

Your child's activities will be temporarily restricted to prevent damage to the operative site. Your child should not ride a bike, play on a jungle gym, wrestle, or participate in organized sports until the surgeon re-evaluates your child at the follow-up visit.

You may give your child a sponge bath the first few days after surgery. Your surgeon will advise you when it is safe for a tub bath.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy