Types, Symptoms, Causes & Treatments of Hernia in Toddlers

As parents, it's very normal to keep checking the child's body for anything out of the ordinary and it can really be a rude shock to discover that the bump you noticed in your toddler's groin or the bulge in the navel is in fact a hernia.

What is a Hernia?

A hernia is a weakness or opening in wall of the muscle, membrane, or tissue that helps hold the organ in place. If the weakness or opening is large, then chances of some of the organ poking out through the hole are high.

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In other words, a hernia is a kind of a bulge that occurs when a tissue or organ moves out of place. Hernias are usually seen in certain areas of the body such as the groin, abdomen, belly button area, and upper thigh area. It could also occur in an area where a person has a surgery incision.

What causes hernias in Toddlers?

In the first few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, it is quite normal if there is a gap in the baby’s tummy muscles. As your baby develops in your womb, this gap slowly closes up. This does not happen in the case of some babies, and they are born with hernias. Hernias are more commonly found in boys. Hernias are also seen more often in prematurely born babies. This happens because their stomach muscles do not have sufficient time to develop before birth.

You would be able to spot a hernia when your baby is born. Or, it may be detected by your midwife, health visitor, or doctor. Sometimes, you may notice the hernia much later when your baby is older. If it is a small hernia, it usually bulges when your toddler tenses his stomach muscles to cough, cry, or while emptying his bowels. You need to rush your toddler to the emergency room if:

  • The hernia becomes hard and does not go soft or go away when your toddler stops crying.
  • If you child finds it painful if you touch the lump.
  • If your baby is generally unwell and starts vomiting. 

Types of Hernia in toddlers

There are different types of hernias that your toddler might suffer from.

Inguinal Hernia in Toddlers

This type of hernia is more likely to occur in boys than in girls. In this type of hernia, a part of the toddlers intestines jut out through an opening the lower areas of the abdomen known as inguinal canal. If your toddler has an inguinal canal, there is usually a bulge near the area where the groin and thigh meet. In boys, the part of the intestine that protrudes may sometimes enter the scrotum, and this can cause swelling and pain. Inguinal hernia surgery is one of the most common surgeries that are performed. One main symptom in case of this type of toddler hernia is pain in the groin area.

Symptoms of Inguinal Hernia

In this type of hernia, you will notice a lump in your toddler's groin area. This usually appears when your child is bawling or sometimes even when he's being over-active. Toddler hernia symptoms are not easy to miss as one of the most prominent symptoms is a firm lump, easily noticeable, roughly about the size of a thumb. Usually, this type of hernia can be cured with a minor surgery.

Umbilical Hernia

Umbilical hernias are more common in infants younger than six months and newborns. These hernias occur as a result of the intestines bulging through the infant’s abdominal wall near the belly button. In the case of infants with umbilical hernias, a bulging is seen near the belly button, especially when the infant cries.

Symptoms of Umbilical Hernia

If your toddler is suffering from an umbilical hernia, then you will notice that her navel bulges when she is really exerting herself or throwing a temper tantrum. Usually this type of hernia is impassive and goes away by the time the child is 5. However, if you notice, that the bulge of the navel is too soft, or much more swollen and red, take your toddler to the doctor immediately, so it can be corrected.

Epigastric hernias

This type of toddler hernia occurs above the belly button and below the infant’s chest. This type of hernia is more common in males. This type of hernia can be fixed with surgery.

Hiatal hernias

Also known as toddler hernia in the diaphragm, this is a type of hernia that is seen at the opening of the infant’s diaphragm. This usually occurs because the muscle near the diaphragm’s opening becomes weak as a result of which the stomach’s uppermost portion bulges through the diaphragm.

What are the treatment options available for hernias?

If you notice a swelling or bulge in your toddler’s groin, scrotum, or thigh, it is best that you connect with your health care provider. Except in the case of umbilical hernias in infants, hernias do not just disappear on their own. You need to treat the problem, and in most cases, your toddler will require surgery. In many cases, an ultrasound and/or X-ray of the area is called for to figure out the severity of the hernia. This surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The doctor makes an incision in the affected area and places the tissue/intestine back in the correct place. In some cases, they place a mesh where the hernia was to help strengthen the wall of the abdomen, and the doctors then suture the incision.

Toddler hernia recovery after surgery takes a couple of hours. Your toddler might be a little groggy and not his/her normal self for a couple of hours. Medication should help attain normalcy. Sometimes hernia surgery is a day case and you get your toddler home once he/she recovers from the anesthetic. Some toddlers may require staying back for observation. He/she may also need to take some pain relief medication for a couple of days. 

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