Gastroschisis is an uncommon birth defect in which the baby’s intestines grow outside of the body through a hole in the abdominal wall. This condition, which occurs early during a woman’s pregnancy, happens when the muscles that form the baby’s abdominal wall fail to grow correctly, leaving a hole next to the belly button. If the hole is large, other organs such as the liver may grow outside of the body as well.

Gastroschisis can cause several problems:

  • When the exposed intestines come into contact with the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus, they can become irritated and shorten, swell or twist.
  • As the fetus grows, the blood supply to the intestines may be reduced.
  • The intestines can become blocked or damaged, which can result in long-term digestive problems after the baby is born.

Gastroschisis is obvious at birth, but also may be diagnosed during pregnancy through prenatal screening tests such as ultrasounds or blood tests.

Treatment for Gastroschisis

Mercy neonatologists and pediatric surgeons treat babies with gastroschisis with medical expertise and compassionate care. Very soon after birth, we will perform surgery to place the baby’s abdominal organs back inside the body and repair the abdominal wall.

  • Single repair: If the abdominal wall hole is small and the intestines are only partially exposed, we may be able to complete the surgery in one procedure and close the hole.
  • Staged repair: Larger abdominal wall holes with multiple organs exposed may require several procedures to repair. Between surgeries, a protective material is placed over the exposed organs until they can be placed back inside the body.

Following surgery, infants spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where we monitor their recovery until they are well enough to leave. Newborns with gastroschisis may have problems with digesting food and absorbing necessary nutrients. Our neonatologists and pediatric surgeons carefully evaluate every baby’s needs and develop a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan to support their recovery and growth.

Mercy knows how upsetting it can be to learn that your newborn needs special medical attention. But you can rest assured our expert teams will provide the best possible care during pregnancy and after your baby is born to get your baby on the road to a healthy life.

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