If you’ve recently given birth, know that your body went through a lot of changes during pregnancy and delivery. Some of those changes might, well… hang on a bit or lead to other changes after you’ve gone home.
If you feel a slight bulge just above your belly button after pregnancy — as opposed to only the standard postpartum bulge lower down — you may have a hernia. But don’t worry; a postpartum hernia is typically just a bump in the road after having a baby. This kind of hernia is usually not serious and can happen for several reasons.
Hernias can happen to anyone, and there are several different types. All hernias happen when part of your insides (like fat, tissue, or intestines) push through an opening or weakened area of the muscle or tissue right beneath the skin.
A hernia isn’t too common postpartum, but it does happen. Some types are more common with pregnancy than others:
Signs and symptoms of a postpartum hernia depend on what kind of hernia you have and the cause. You may have:
- a midline bump or bulge above your belly button
- a bulging or “outie” belly button
- raised tissue or bumpiness along your C-section scar
- tenderness or pain
With any kind of postpartum hernia, the bulge or bump may temporarily worsen when you:
- cough or sneeze
- laugh hard
- lift something
- stand up suddenly
- climb stairs
Seek medical attention right away
Symptoms of a serious hernia that mean you need emergency medical treatment include:
- extreme or sudden pain
- severe nausea
- a bulge that gets worse
- skin changes in or around the hernia
A postpartum hernia usually happens because some of the effects of pregnancy, vaginal delivery, or a C-section are still hanging around.
Your growing baby and belly during pregnancy increases the pressure on the abdominal wall. This can stretch the stomach muscles and make them weaker or even separate in some areas. When this happens, the inner abdomen lining, fat, or even bits of intestines can push up against these areas, causing a bump.
A hernia can happen in or around the belly button because this area is naturally weaker than the rest of the abdominal wall.
If you had a cesarean delivery, you may get a postpartum hernia along the area of your incision. This can happen if the muscles and opening don’t heal properly or if there’s too much pressure on the area before you fully recover.
If your hernia is large or is causing symptoms and pain, you may need a medical procedure to treat it. Most postpartum hernias can be repaired laparoscopically (with a keyhole surgery). This means that your surgeon will only make a small incision over the hernia site.
Next, a tiny surgical mesh is slipped through the keyhole to “patch” up and strengthen the hole or weakened area in the stomach wall. For very large postpartum hernias, you may need a bigger surgery that helps to rejoin the stomach’s muscle wall by suturing them or with a bigger mesh.
No matter what kind of surgery you need, recovery time is important and may be difficult to do with a small baby. You’ll need to avoid lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds for up to 6 weeks. It may take up to a month to feel recovered from the surgery.
Your doctor may recommend the “watch and wait” approach if your postpartum hernia is small and not causing symptoms or discomfort. This means waiting to see if the hernia gets better on its own as your abdominal wall and stomach muscles get stronger day by day.
A larger hernia may not go away on its own, but you may not wish to have surgery if it’s not causing any symptoms. Let your doctor know if you have a postpartum hernia, even if it’s small. It’s important to get it checked out to make sure it doesn’t get worse or cause symptoms.
If you’re planning to have more kiddos, your doctor may advise you to wait until afterward to repair the hernia, as long as it’s not causing symptoms or other side effects. A medical study that followed 3,578 women who had surgery for a ventral hernia found that of those who got pregnant again after surgery, some developed another hernia in the same area again.
This study brings up a great question, and an unfortunate answer: If you’ve had a postpartum hernia, you may have a higher risk of getting it again or having a worse hernia with your next pregnancy.
Expecting parents can sometimes also get a hernia during pregnancy. You may be more likely to get one if you had one before, postpartum or not. Again, don’t worry, hernias can also be a normal side effect of pregnancy and won’t put your growing baby at risk.
In fact, if you had more of an “outie” belly button during pregnancy when you normally have an “innie,” you technically had a hernia. This happens because your growing baby is pushing your insides and stomach muscles up and out.
When this pressure reaches a weaker area like the belly button a bulge may form during pregnancy. These kinds of hernia happen just under the skin and you and your baby are still healthy and safe.
A hiatal hernia is more serious and usually happens during the second trimester. You won’t see this this kind of hernia because it’s inside your body. In a hiatal hernia, the stomach pushes upwards against the diaphragm muscles just below the chest.
You can’t always prevent a hernia, especially during pregnancy. After you have your baby, you may be able to lower your risk of getting a postpartum hernia by giving yourself time to recover and reducing pressure around your stomach area. To help prevent a hernia, try to:
- avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby
- avoid intense exercise
- avoid standing for long periods of time
- avoid climbing a lot of stairs
- wear supportive but loose clothing
- support your stomach with your hands when you cough or sneeze
If you find yourself constipated, consider a stool softener or adding fiber to your diet to avoid straining in the bathroom. If these methods don’t relieve constipation, your doctor may also recommend a laxative.
Hernias are common during pregnancy and after pregnancy. Postpartum hernias can happen for several reasons. See your doctor even if you don’t have any symptoms or the hernia is very small.
Most hernias don’t go away on their own. You may need surgery for larger hernias. If you have a minor hernia, your doctor may recommend waiting until you’re no longer having biological children to make sure the hernia doesn’t happen again after surgery.
Lower your risk of postpartum hernias by letting yourself recover before you get back into your (new) “normal” routine. Avoid doing anything that might put pressure on your abdomen and groin area.