An umbilical hernia is an outward protrusion of the lining of the abdomen or part of the abdominal organs through the area around the belly button. They are generally painless and most common in infants, although they can affect adults as well.

A classic sign of umbilical hernia can be seen when an infant cries, causing their belly button to protrude.

In children, most umbilical hernias close on their own by the ages of 1 or 2. However, if the umbilical hernia does not close by the time a child reaches the age of 4, surgical treatment is required.


Umbilical hernias in children are usually painless however in adults, they can present abdominal discomfort. A common sign of umbilical hernia includes:

  • Swelling or bulge near the naval area

In more severe cases of infants with umbilical hernia, symptoms that can present themselves include:

  • Evident pain
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen and tender bulge



Umbilical hernias are most common in infants. They occur when the muscle through which the umbilical cord passes does not close completely after birth. Weakness in the abdominal wall can also cause an umbilical hernia.

In adults, severe pressure on the abdomen can cause an umbilical hernia. Possible causes in adults include the following:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a multiple pregnancy
  • Having fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • Having had prior abdominal surgery
  • Having certain conditions such as Chronic peritoneal dialysis
  • Having a persistent chronic cough
  • Straining while lifting or moving heavy objects

Risk factors

In infants, a few factors that can increase the risk of developing an umbilical hernia include:

  • Being prematurely born
  • Being born with a low birth weight
  • Being of African American descent

In adults, a few factors that increase the risk of developing an umbilical hernia include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having multiple pregnancies



In infants, possible complications that can arise from an umbilical hernia include:

  • Reduction of blood supply
  • Umbilical pain
  • Tissue damage or tissue death
  • Infection throughout the abdominal cavity

In adults, possible complications that can arise from an umbilical hernia include:

  • Obstruction: A section of the bowel becomes stuck outside the abdomen, causing nausea, vomiting and pain.
  • Strangulation:  A section of bowel becomes trapped and blood supply is cut off. Emergency surgery is required to release the trapped tissue and restore blood supply.



Most umbilical hernias in infants close on their own by the ages of 1 or 2. Surgical repair of an umbilical hernia is needed when:

  • The hernia does not heal properly after the child reaches the age of 4
  • The hernia is painful
  • The hernia is bigger than 1.5 centimeters in diameter
  • The intestine or other tissue bulges out and loses it blood supply

For adults, surgery is automatically recommended in order to avoid possible complications. A doctor makes a small incision at the base of the belly button, returns the herniated tissue to the abdominal cavity and closes the opening in the abdominal wall through stitching.

Though rare, complications that can occur from surgery include:

  • Infection at the affected area
  • Reoccurrence of the hernia
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea
  • Numbness in the legs