Hernias are fairly common in kids -- and infants are sometimes born with them, even though you might not notice the hernia until your baby is several weeks old. Hernias are more common in boys than girls, but they can occur in girls, too. There are several reasons why an infant might develop a hernia.
Definition and Types
A hernia is a section of the intestines or other organ that protrudes through a weak spot in a muscle, such as the abdominal muscles. There are three types of hernias that can affect children: An inguinal hernia occurs when a piece of soft tissue, usually the intestine, moves into the inguinal canal, which runs along the groin and lower pelvic area. Inguinal hernias appear as a bulge or swelling in the groin or scrotum. An umbilical hernia, which occurs when the part of the abdominal area where a baby's umbilical cord develops and falls off doesn't close properly and a piece of the intestine moves into that space. Umbilical hernias appear as a bulge or swelling in the belly-button area. A hiatal hernia occurs when a part of the stomach pushes up into the esophagus. Children with this condition are usually born with it -- and if often occurs with gastroesophageal reflux in infants, according to MedlinePlus. Your pediatrician is likely to diagnose this type of hernia if your infant has digestive issues.
Excessive Crying or Strain
Excessive crying and the straining that's usually associated with it aren't likely to cause a hernia, but the increased pressure from crying can make the hernia more noticeable. However, there are also other types of strains that can cause a hernia. If your child has to strain hard to have a bowel movement, it can lead to either an inguinal or a hiatal hernia due to chronic and continued pressure on the muscle walls, according to MayoClinic.com. The same thing can happen if your infant is vomiting repeatedly. The strain associated with a chronic cough can also lead to the development of a hernia.
Aside from excessive strain, there are other reasons that a hernia can develop. Preemies are at risk for a hernia, as is any infant who has a parent or sibling who had a hernia as an infant, according to Boston Children's Hospital. Either a hiatal or inguinal hernia can result from injury to the area.
In most cases, an umbilical hernia will go away on its own by the time your child is 3 or 4. If it's still present at age 5, your child's doctor might recommend surgery. Hiatal hernias are typically treated with diet and medication, whereas surgery is necessary to treat an inguinal hernia. According to Boston Children's Hospital, an inguinal hernia is typically surgically repaired fairly soon after it is discovered, since the intestine can become stuck in the inguinal canal, cutting off the blood supply to the intestine, resulting in damage. Doctors will want to perform the surgery before this occurs. The procedure is fairly simple.