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What is Belly Button Surgery?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Belly button surgery, also known as umbilical hernia repair, is a procedure used to correct an intestinal protrusion of the wall of the abdomen that may occur near the belly button. Generally conducted on an outpatient basis, umbilical hernia repair is most frequently performed on children. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with belly button surgery and these should be discussed with a qualified health care provider prior to pursuing this treatment option.

While in utero, the umbilical cord passes through muscles within the baby's abdominal wall. Generally, the opening through which the cord passes closes before the baby is born, but in some cases it may not close completely, creating a weakness within the abdominal muscles. An umbilical hernia occurs when an individual’s intestine protrudes through the weakened abdominal muscles located near the belly button. A condition frequently diagnosed in infants, an umbilical hernia is most evident when stress is placed on the abdominal area, as occurs during crying or coughing. Usually the hernia repairs itself within the first couple of years, but if the hernia remains beyond a child's fourth year, belly button surgery may be performed to prevent complications.

There are several factors that may contribute to the development of an umbilical hernia later in life. Individuals who are obese or have a medical condition that causes a persistent cough are at an increased risk for developing a hernia. Women who have had multiple pregnancies are also at a higher risk for developing an umbilical hernia. The presence of an intestinal protrusion is usually detected during a physical examination and may be verified through the administration of imaging testing, such as an ultrasound.

Hernias that occur in children may bulge out and cause pain or progress and adversely affect blood supply. Umbilical hernias in adults may cause the intestinal tissue to become incarcerated, or stuck in the hernia, leading to the eventual strangulation of the protruding portion of the intestine. When tissue is strangulated its blood supply is disrupted, which can lead to tissue death, or necrosis. Whether the hernia is causing pain, increasing in size, or at risk for endangering intestinal tissue, surgery may be necessary to repair the protrusion and provide support to the weakened abdominal wall.

Belly button surgery is an invasive procedure conducted under general anesthesia. During the procedure, a cut is made under the belly button and the hernia is separated from the surrounding tissue. Depending on the size of the hernia, it may either be returned to its original position within the abdominal cavity or removed. In some cases, a synthetic mesh material may then be used to reinforce the weakened abdominal wall. Sutures close the hole created by the hernia and additional stitches are utilized to close the incision.

Prior to the procedure, parents may be instructed to provide a list of medications their child may be taking, including herbal supplements and vitamins. Individuals should not eat or drink anything at least six hours prior to surgery. Adults undergoing belly button surgery may be asked to discontinue their use of aspirin, or any other medications that may interfere with blood clotting, at least three days before the procedure.

While in recovery, the individual’s vital signs are monitored to ensure she or he is stable and pain medication may be administered to alleviate discomfort. Parents may be instructed on how to care for their child’s incision, which may take up to two weeks to heal completely. Normal activities may usually be resumed without restriction within one month of the procedure.

Individuals who undergo belly button surgery may be at risk for developing complications. As associated with the use of general anesthesia, risks may include breathing difficulty, allergic reaction, and heart arrhythmia. Complications associated with the repair may include infection, injury to the large intestine, and excessive bleeding.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1001992 — On Aug 12, 2019

I'm a heavier (but not super or ultra-heavy) older guy with the following awful medical problem which is still somewhat mysterious. Over four years ago, I was savagely, brutally stabbed in my once always-pain-free belly button. ([It was a bloodless stabbing since a creep's finger went into me at ~ 60 mph.) In and under my belly button, I was in sudden, horrendous, constant physical pain when the stabbing occurred. At the time of the stabbing, I also had a painful left groin pantaloon hernia and a painless right groin hernia. The stabber was extra nasty by saying to me just 1 or 2 seconds after the stabbing "Oh- it looks like you have a belly button hernia!" said just to humiliate me even more.

From the moment of the stabbing, it took 20 days until the three laparoscopic surgeries were done: L and R groin hernia repairs and the belly button "hernia" repair. Polypropylene mesh was put in for each groin hernia repair and the hospital (where the three surgeries were done in one session) claims I have no mesh beneath my former belly button but when I pressed my fingers on either side of my former belly button, I hit a depth where I have sudden, burning pain and feel this burning in the shape of a rectangle so I think mesh is beneath my former belly button.

Anyway, because I was physically inactive after those three surgeries were done, I didn't have extremely bad physical pain under my former belly button-- I did have though, an annoying physical feeling of something to push out of me from under my former belly button. There was a terrible worsening for me this past May when I joined a gym and only walked on the treadmill and then used the elliptical. I only went to this gym five days (every other day) and noticed something going wrong beneath my former belly button. The fifth day I went was the last one at the gym: something was indeed very wrong beneath my belly button.

The day after I last went to the gym I began to have increasing constant, high-level nauseating physical pain and/or constant, high-level DULL physical pain beneath my former belly button. (At times the two kinds of physical pain were mixed together. The nauseating/sickening physical pain never led to vomiting.) I couldn't even sleep, since sleeping on either side made either or both of these kinds of physical pain instantly worse.

This misery and physical suffering continues today some 10 weeks after I last used that gym. I think, but am not 100% certain, that the motions and movements I made on the elliptical caused some bad medical problem beneath my former belly button. I thought that, if there's polypropylene mesh beneath my former belly button, then the motions and movements I made on the elliptical twisted up or distorted or damaged the mesh. At the gym, I only used the treadmill and the elliptical-- nothing else.

Due to this nightmare, doctors have ordered only a 1.5 T MRI scan (which showed nothing wrong) and an upper GI endoscopy (which only showed esophagitis and duodenitis). If I push the skin surrounding my former belly button around and downward, everything seems all "welded together". Since there was an incision made into or maybe next to my belly button, I wonder if all this physical suffering and physical pain is due to adhesions and/or scarring (both from the laparoscopic surgery) or maybe there's still a belly button hernia that maybe never really was repaired 4.5 years ago. While I have moderate to high-level constant sharper physical pain beneath my former belly button when I'm standing, it's always much worse for some reason when I lay down on either side with laying on my left side worse than laying down on my right side. I understand that in medicine there's the problem of foreign object inside the body causing the body to try to get of it, push it out.

Maybe this means I do indeed have plastic mesh beneath my former belly button. I do have that very annoying constant, sharper poking outward sensation as if a thimble with points on it were trying to push out of me from where my "belly button" is. I'll watch here for any ideas you might have. You might just save my life since I can't live with this agony and with getting little to no sleep. Thanks.

By anon962773 — On Jul 25, 2014

I'm thinking about going through this procedure. What would we be looking at in the cost of things?

By Heavanet — On Jun 09, 2014

@raynbow- As the article points out, both an umbilical hernia and the surgery to repair it pose significant risks. However, as a child ages and grows into an adult, the risks and complications of not having a hernia repaired outweigh the risks of having the problem fixed.

To decrease the risks your nephew will face, his parents should get several opinions before choosing a surgeon. They should also make sure that the surgeon they select has performed this type of procedure multiple times, and that he or she has surgical privileges in a reputable hospital.

Once your nephew has his hernia repaired, his family should help him through the recovery process by doing everything his doctor recommends, and taking him to all of his post-operative appointments. These steps will help make the surgery easier and less risky for your little family member.

By Raynbow — On Jun 08, 2014

I have a young nephew who needs a hernia that is near his belly button repaired. It sounds like a serious procedure. Is it worth the risk?

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