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Omphalocele is a birth defect in which a baby is born with their intestines or other organs protruding outside of the body through the navel (belly button).
Normally, as a fetus’s intestines grow during the first ten weeks of pregnancy, they push out into the umbilical cord, then go back into the belly. In babies with an omphalocele, they stay outside of the body. In small omphaloceles, only some intestines are exposed; in larger ones, multiple organs may be outside of the body.
Unlike gastroschisis, in which the exposed organs are not covered and can be damaged by amniotic fluid, the intestines in a baby with an omphalocele are covered in a thin, translucent sac that protects them. However, babies with an omphalocele may have other issues:
An omphalocele is immediately evident when a baby is born. During pregnancy, it may be discovered through prenatal screening tests such as ultrasounds or blood tests.
At Mercy, our neonatologists and pediatric surgeons carefully develop expert, personalized treatment plans for every baby with an abdominal wall birth defect. Each infant’s treatment will depend on several factors, including the size of the omphalocele and the baby’s overall health.
In most cases, we will perform surgery very soon after birth to place the organs back into the abdominal cavity and repair the abdominal wall.
Following surgery, infants spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where we closely monitor their recovery until they are well enough to leave the unit. In some cases, an omphalocele may cause complications with feeding, digestion and bowel obstruction. Our neonatologists and pediatric surgeons carefully evaluate every baby’s progress to support their recovery and growth.
Learning that your baby has an abdominal wall defect can be very upsetting, but Mercy’s neonatology teams have the expertise to help our tiniest patients recover and thrive.
Our neonatology department includes experienced physician specialists, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists and other specialists who care for critically ill newborns. Learn more.