How to Handle an Umbilical Hernia in Pregnancy

If your belly button pops out too far during pregnancy, it could be an umbilical hernia. Find out more about the causes, symptoms, and whether you need surgery.

pregnant woman holding ultrasound image on belly
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Nearly all pregnant women get an "outie" navel during pregnancy—but in a few cases, the navel protrudes so much that it's considered a rupture, or "umbilical hernia." This condition, which also occurs in newborns and young children, rarely causes problems or requires surgery. Here's what you need to know about the causes, symptoms, and how to handle it.

What Causes an Umbilical Hernia in Pregnancy?

In the second and third trimesters, the expanding uterus puts pressure on the abdomen. This pushes the belly button outward, causing many pregnant women to go from "innies" to "outies." But if the belly button protrudes extensively, it might indicate that tissues or organs have passed through a weakened opening in your abdominal wall—a phenomenon known as an umbilical hernia.

Factors that increase the odds of umbilical hernia include weak stomach muscles, obesity, pregnancy with multiples, previous abdominal surgery, fluid in the abdomen, natural separation of abdominal muscles, chronic cough, and personal or family history of hernias.

Umbilical Hernia Symptoms

Some women experience no signs of umbilical hernia. But others have symptoms that include:

  • A bulge near your belly button. This bulge may range in size from a grape to a grapefruit. It usually goes away when you lie down and swell up when you sit, cough, or use the bathroom. Some women can see this lump while others can't.
  • Pressure near the belly button
  • Dull pain that becomes worse with exertion
  • Constipation and nausea, especially with severe hernias

Umbilical hernias are diagnosed during routine prenatal visits. Your doctor should notice the hernia and take steps to fix it, if necessary.

What to Do For an Umbilical Hernia

Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you might have an umbilical hernia. In most cases, doctors can nudge it back by applying firm pressure, and your "innie" should return after your baby is born.

Rarely, though, a hernia can become trapped in your abdominal wall. This can damage your organs (especially the intestines) and cut off blood supply. You might need minor laparoscopic surgery with small incisions to fix it. Less-severe cases can wait until after birth, but your doctor may also perform surgery during pregnancy (usually in the second trimester). You can also surgically repair an umbilical hernia during a C-section.

In the meantime, you can take these steps to manage the condition.

  • Avoid constipation by staying hydrated and eating high-fiber foods. Constipation creates strain during bowel movements, which could make hernias worse.
  • Don't lift anything heavy; the added pressure might expand your hernia.
  • Prevent irritation by wearing loose, flowy shirts with low-rise pants.
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