Long Belly Buttons

My 10-month-old has a long belly button. When he cries it gets big, but otherwise it is just skin. Is this something to be concerned about?

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

It sounds like you are describing something we call an umbilical hernia. This is a common condition in kids that usually goes away on its own. There are two large muscles in the stomach–the rectus abdominus muscles–which normally connect to each other shortly after birth. In some kids an opening between the muscles lasts longer. About 95 percent of the time it closes by one year.

The real question is not how big the “pooch” is, but how big the opening between the muscles is. If it is still an inch across at one year, still growing after one year, or still present at kindergarten, simple surgery (just pulling the two muscles together) is sometimes used to fix it.

In the meantime, it is important to keep an eye on the “pooch.” When your child is relaxed, it should be easy to push the contents of the “pooch” back into the abdomen. Very rarely, the contents of the “pooch” may become stuck outside the body and appear painful, swollen, and/or discolored. This rare situation requires urgent medical attention.

People have tried bands or cords or coins to try to make them go away faster but they do not help. This was commonly recommended because 95 percent of the time it went away with this, but we later figured out that 95 percent go away without the help, too.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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