Posted by Claudia Grazioso on June 8, 2011
So many cool things happen during pregnancy. Heart beats blip, arm buds form and skeletons build — and, if your children are like mine, hereditary mule-headedness sets in. And at some point, probably around week 10, believe it or not, your baby’s intestines move outside of his or her abdominal cavity, and then move back in, arrange themselves nicely and the abdominal wall seals up again. Nature is just awesome. The problem is, sometimes that doesn’t happen exactly as it should and the result is a condition known as an infant omphalocele.
An omphalocele is a type of hernia, in which the baby is born with the contents of his or her abdominal cavity protruding from the navel. Sometimes, it is a slight protrusion, and sometimes the intestines are fully external, and covered in a thin membrane or sac. Occasionally, depending on the size and severity of the omphalocele, the liver and the spleen are outside of the body, too.
Amazingly, as frightening a condition as this might seem, the prognosis for children born with infant omphalocele is very good. If the sac is in tact and hasn’t been damaged or breeched, the first step in treating an infant omphalocele is wrapping a dry dressing around it. Then surgery is usually necessary to move the organs back into place within the abdominal walls. Depending on the size of the omphalocele, this is sometimes done in steps.
If you are pregnant and an ultrasound has revealed that your child has infant omphalocele, depending on the size of the hernia involved and whether other organs like the liver are affected, your doctor might prefer to perform a C-section to deliver the baby. After your child is born and treated for omphalocele, he or she will most likely be fed with a central line for a while. One of the biggest steps in recovery from this condition is for the baby to learn to eat and tolerate food. This is where patience comes in. Though it’s difficult, try to remind yourself that most cases of omphalocele result in a full recovery. A stay in the NICU, or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, is not at all uncommon, and some patients are there for up to 8 weeks while their bowels begin to function normally.
Since part of being a parent is blaming yourself for everything, you will probably wonder what you could have done differently. Most likely, nothing. However, some studies have shown an increased risk for infant omphalocele in babies whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy. Also, mothers over the age of 35 are at an increased risk. That said, it’s important not to sink into blame and self-recrimination. You need to be healthy and clear-headed for your child. One thing you can do, and should do, is have your child checked thoroughly for any other birth defect. Up to 50 percent of babies born with infant omphalocele have another birth defect, and studies suggest that 19 to 32 percent of those children have a cardiac defect. Be sure your child is given a thorough exam to rule any other problems out. Frequently, the sooner a problem is discovered, the more successfully it can be treated.