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Why your baby's bulging belly button could be a hernia

 Types of hernia. [iStockphoto]

When he was just three months old, Lucy Muthoni’s son, who is now six years old, developed a swelling on his umbilical cord which expanded whenever he cried.

 “My son used to cry and sometimes cough at night, one day I realized a swelling on his belly button whenever he cried and coughed,” Muthoni explains.

During her monthly visit to a local dispensary in Ithenguri, Nyeri County Muthoni explained that her son cried often and for long, especially at night.

She narrates that she was told that her son had developed an umbilical hernia and the medics advised her to tie a cloth along the umbilical cord area to avoid more openings.

“The doctor told me that an object like a coin would be wrapped in cotton wool to prevent the protrusion from getting irritated and a bandage would be placed over it to reinforce it. This was required to be dressed every week,” she says.

She adds that when her child turned six months, the umbilical hernia disappeared on its own and the child stopped crying.

Virginia Mukami from Narumoru, Nyeri County, said her three-year-old daughter developed a swelling similar to a balloon on her belly button at three months old. The swelling expanded more whenever she cried.

“I was worried so I took her to the hospital the doctor said it was called a hernia but it would go away even without treatment. They said that if it had not gone away after two to three years, the child would for surgery,” she said.

 Deputy Medical Superintendent Nyeri County Referral Hospital and surgeon Dr Shaban Saidi says that an umbilical hernia is a birth defect around the umbilicus.

He adds that it is an abnormal bulge that can be seen or felt at the umbilicus (belly button).

It develops when a portion of the lining of the abdomen, part of the intestine, and or fluid from the abdomen, comes through the muscle of the abdominal wall.

“There is usually a defect in the inner layers and needs to be closed by operation or it can lead to complications,” Dr Saidi said.

The doctor explains that the procedure includes a small incision made at the base of the belly button.

If any intestine is present in the hernia, it is placed back into the abdominal cavity. The opening in the muscle is then repaired with multiple layers of stitches to prevent another hernia.

“While premature infants and children with certain medical conditions may require overnight observation in the hospital, most children can return home within a few hours after surgery,” he adds.

Dr Jeremiah Thuku at Nyeri Health Center explains that an umbilical hernia is a defect of a small hole that appears on the umbilicus of a child.

“It can be treated through an operation in a hospital although some go away after a while it’s normally noticeable when a child cries and coughs,” Dr Jeremiah says.

He adds that there is no specific cause of this defect as the umbilical cord connects the mother to the child for feeding.

 However, Dr Thuku notes that the child should be checked by a doctor.

According to the Cincinnati Children’s Health Library, as the fetus develops during pregnancy, there is a small opening in the abdominal muscles that allows the umbilical cord to pass through, connecting mother to baby as the baby grows after birth, and this opening in the abdominal musclescloses.

 “Sometimes, however, these muscles do not meet and grow together completely, and a small opening remains. This opening is called an umbilical hernia,” Stanford Medicine Children’s Health states.

About 20 percent of babies are born with umbilical hernias. They usually develop in infants and reach their maximal size by the first month of life, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The swelling may become more noticeable when the baby cries and may become smaller or disappear when the baby is quiet.

On treatment, many umbilical hernias close on their own by ages three to four years but recommend surgical repair in case closure fails.

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