Baby Myth #1: Tape a Bellybutton, Cure an Umbilical Hernia?
Old wives tales? Old husband stories? Myths about babyhood and babyraising abound, and can be confusing or concerning to parents. I enjoy learning about different approaches to problems that evolve from tradition or word of mouth. Some work great (chamomile tea for colic), some, not so much. Here’s part one of a threefer on baby myth debunking.
Myth: Taping a coin or using a device to press down on an umbilical hernia will help it go away faster.
Umbilical hernias are incredibly common. These defects of the bellybutton arise when the ring of tissue at the junction of the old umbilical cord do not perform as expected and zip closed in the hours and days after birth. Umbilical hernias are more common in preemies, children of African American descent, and children with some genetic conditions, but they can occur in any child. Further, they can look rather wild.
Parents will tell you with aghast expressions that their babies’ bellybuttons pop out when their infants bear down and put pressure on their abdominal muscles, as when they strain to poop, or to get a good yell on. The resulting bulge can be small, or quite pronounced, even stretching of the skin around the bellybutton to protuberant, toy balloon-like dimensions. To the uninitiated, it definitely brings to mind the less pleasant sequences from the Aliens franchise. In the vast majority of cases, these hernias are unsightly, but are painless and pose no threat to the baby.
To address this issue, a fascinating array of products and practices have evolved for treatment. In some quarters, so to speak, families methodically tape coins over the umbilical area to keep the ballooning tissue in check. Like my colleagues, I have had parents tell me very specifically what kind of coin works best. (Per one mom, it was a twenty-five-cent piece, or nothin’). Other times, I have seen hand crafted girdles, or commercially produced baby bellybutton belts, or trusses that sling around the waist of the child to tamp down that skyward pointing navel. While these approaches are interesting for their ingenuity, they turn out to be ineffective (albeit, benign). The downside? The cost of paying for these products, or some local contact skin irritation from tape adhesive to keep that quarter in place.
Ultimately, it is the size of that ligamentous ring that surrounds the bellybutton that will determine if an umbilical hernia will require surgery. A ring defect of 1 cm or less in diameter will mostly likely close on its own, over time. Rings greater than 1.5 cm in diameter are less likely to close, and are more likely to need a surgeon to repair the defect (“a minor imperfection in an otherwise perfect baby,” as my mother likes to say). However, most surgeons will elect to use a tincture of time, and to see if the hernia resolves with further growth. For those kids who do go to the OR for an umbilical hernia, it might be done at a younger age if they are getting another procedure or in the uncommon instance that the defect is uncommonly large or concerning. Otherwise, pediatric surgeons seem to favor operating on bigger patients, when the children are 4-5 years of age.
So will an umbilical hernia go away if you tape a quarter to a belly? Sure…but it probably would anyway.
(photo above by doublethejoy; cartoon below by me)
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