There’s a lot to be aware of when you’re pregnant. Changes in your body can sometimes make other rare problems pop up.
One thing that likely never crossed your mind is an umbilical hernia. It’s rare, but it can happen. Also called a naval hernia, this kind of hernia is more common in women — and pregnancy can cause or worsen it.
Fortunately, this kind of hernia is usually harmless. About 10 percent of stomach hernias in adults are umbilical hernias. Non-pregnant adults, babies, and toddlers can have an umbilical hernia, too. In fact, it’s more common in these groups than among those who are pregnant.
An umbilical hernia during pregnancy is rare, but in a small percentage of cases, it can be serious. Therefore, if you suspect you have one, you’ll need to see your OB-GYN ASAP.
An umbilical hernia during pregnancy has nothing to do with your growing baby’s umbilical cord. It has more to do with your own umbilical cord — or rather, the one you had before you were born.
Everyone has a belly button because that’s the exact spot where your umbilical cord connected you to your mother. What can’t be seen is the opening through the stomach muscles right under your belly button. This is where the umbilical cord tunneled through on its way out of your body.
After you’re born, this opening through your stomach muscles closes. All that’s left of the umbilical cord is an innie or outie belly button. However, sometimes the tunnel between the muscles stays open or doesn’t close tightly enough.
Adults can get an umbilical hernia if fat or part of the intestine pushes through this weaker opening into the area right under your belly button.
If you’re pregnant, a growing belly and baby means there’s more pressure inside your stomach. The muscles of the stomach wall also become thinner and weaker as they stretch during pregnancy.
The pushing force and weaker muscles can cause an umbilical hernia during pregnancy, or make one worse.
During pregnancy, your previously tiny womb fills up like a balloon. It reaches belly button height in your second trimester — around the
This is why umbilical hernias during pregnancy usually don’t happen in the first trimester. They’re more common from the second trimester on.
You’re more likely to get an umbilical hernia during pregnancy if you:
- had an umbilical hernia before you got pregnant
- have naturally weak stomach muscles
- have a natural opening or separation in the stomach muscles
- have overweight or obesity
- have excess fluid in the stomach or body
An umbilical hernia during pregnancy might not cause any symptoms at all. You may notice a bulge or swelling around your belly button. It might be as small as a grape or as large as a grapefruit. You might have:
- swelling or a bump around your belly button that’s more noticeable when you cough
- pressure around your belly button
- pain or tenderness around your belly button
In serious cases, an umbilical hernia might lead to:
- severe pain
- sudden or sharp pain
In a more serious umbilical hernia, part of the intestines can get coiled up inside the opening. This can pinch or squeeze the intestines too much, cutting off blood supply — like when a hose gets twisted and the water stops.
In a worst-case scenario, the umbilical hernia can stop your digestion from working properly or cause other dangerous complications.
If you had an umbilical hernia during another pregnancy or before you got pregnant, it may happen again during this pregnancy.
An umbilical hernia during pregnancy will not harm your little bundle in the oven. However, you are your baby’s lifeboat, and your health is a priority. A serious umbilical hernia can make you very sick without treatment.
A mild umbilical hernia during pregnancy might not need any treatment at all. The swelling around your belly button may only be fat that got pushed between the muscles. It should go away once you deliver.
That said, laparoscopic surgery, which involves small incisions and the use of a camera, is sometimes needed to fix an umbilical hernia. In most cases, general anesthesia is used, and you will not feel a thing.
Treatment for an umbilical hernia during pregnancy depends on how bad it is. If it’s a small one and you aren’t having any symptoms, your OB-GYN will likely decide to wait until you’ve given birth to your baby.
If the hernia is large or causing complications like damaging the intestines or other organs, you may need surgery as soon as possible. In these cases, it’s safest to address the incarcerated hernia rather than wait, even when pregnant, as the benefits outweigh the risk to your pregnancy.
Most OB-GYNs recommend waiting until the second trimester of pregnancy for this surgery if it’s not needed urgently. In other cases, your OB may fix the hernia while you’re delivering your baby via C-section.
After surgery for an umbilical hernia, remember to avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds for up to 6 weeks. A hernia repair can reopen or happen again. If you’ve had a C-section, you know this drill.
Your muscles may still be weak after hernia repair. Stomach muscles can also separate during pregnancy. Talk to your OB-GYN or a physiotherapist about the best way to strengthen these belly muscles once you have fully recovered from the surgery and childbirth.
An umbilical hernia is rare, but if you’re at risk or have had one before, you can help prevent one from happening in future pregnancies. The main idea is to avoid things that add to the natural pressure that your growing belly is already experiencing.
Good strategies include:
- wearing loose clothing that allows for good blood flow, especially around your pelvis and legs
- wearing clothing that gently supports your growing belly, such as pants with elastic waistbands
- using support to pull yourself up when getting up from a sitting or lying down position
- avoiding picking up heavy things — including your toddler, if you have one!
- avoiding climbing too many stairs when you can
- using your hands to help stop or control a hard sneeze or coughing
- putting your feet up when you can
- doing low-impact exercises like walking, stretching, and light yoga
If you think you have an umbilical hernia or your belly button looks or feels funny, see your OB-GYN right away. Let them know if you may have had an umbilical hernia before you were pregnant or during another pregnancy — even if you never had any symptoms.
An umbilical hernia during pregnancy can get worse because of the pressure and weight of carrying a new life. Get emergency care if you have sharp or severe pain, pressure, or vomiting.