Omphalocele

An omphalocele is a birth defect, which is an abnormality that occurs before birth as a fetus is forming in its mother’s uterus. Some of the abdominal organs protrude through an opening in the abdominal muscles in the area of the umbilical cord. A translucent membrane covers the protruding organs.

The omphalocele may be small, with only a portion of the intestine protruding outside the abdominal cavity, or large, with most of the abdominal organs (including intestine, liver and spleen) present outside the abdominal cavity. Further, the abdominal cavity itself may be small due to underdevelopment during pregnancy.

What causes an omphalocele?

It is not known what causes omphalocele. Steps that normally happen in the development of the abdominal organs and muscles simply did not happen properly. It is not known to be caused by anything the mother did during pregnancy.

Many babies born with an omphalocele also have other abnormalities.

Why is an omphalocele a concern?

Since some or all of the abdominal organs are outside the body, infection is a concern, especially if the protective membrane around the organs breaks. Also, an organ may lose its blood supply if it becomes pinched or twisted. A loss of blood flow can damage the affected organ.

How is an omphalocele diagnosed?

Omphalocele can often be detected on fetal ultrasound in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. A fetal echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) may also be done to check for heart abnormalities before the baby is born. Learn more about having a fetal echocardiogram at CHOC.

If your baby has been diagnosed with an omphalocele, we would be happy to schedule a consultation with your family and one of our top surgeons, as well as a CHOC neonatologist and your perinatologist, to prepare for the birth and subsequent care of your baby.

After birth, the omphalocele can be noted by the doctor during the physical examination. X-rays may also be done after birth to evaluate abnormalities of other organs or body parts.

How is an omphalocele treated?

For a “small” omphalocele (only a portion of the intestine protruding outside the abdominal cavity), shortly after birth, surgery is done to return the organs to the abdomen and close the opening in the abdominal wall.

For a “large” omphalocele (most of the abdominal organs, including intestine, liver and spleen are present outside the abdominal cavity), the repair is done in stages and may include the following:

  • At first, sterile, protective sheeting is placed over the abdominal organs.
  • Because the abdomen may be small and underdeveloped, it may not be able to hold all of the organs at once. Therefore, the exposed organs are gradually moved back into the abdomen over several days or weeks.
  • The abdominal wall is closed surgically once the organs have been returned to the abdominal cavity.

Because the abdominal cavity may be small and underdeveloped, and the organs may be swollen, a baby with an omphalocele may have breathing difficulties as the organs are returned to the abdomen. Your baby may need help from a breathing machine called a mechanical ventilator while the swelling is decreasing and the size of the abdominal cavity is increasing.

What is the long-term outlook for a baby born with an omphalocele?

Problems in the future often depend on:

  • The size of the omphalocele
  • If there was a loss of blood flow to part of the intestine or other organs
  • The extent of other abnormalities.

Babies who have damage to the intestines or other abdominal organs may have long-term problems with digestion, elimination and infection.

Please talk with your baby’s doctor regarding the prognosis for your baby.

The Only Surgical NICU on the West Coast

baby surgeryWhen it comes to surgery, babies present a unique challenge because of their small size and complex conditions. Their health can change in an instant, requiring quick action and expertise.

No other hospital in the region is prepared to meet this challenge like CHOC Children’s. We proudly offer the only Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on the West Coast, providing highly specialized care for babies who need surgery.

The Surgical NICU brings every member of the care team together to follow a coordinated plan for babies, and provide a seamless experience for families. This coordinated effort is backed by national-level research and quality improvement efforts, all of which has led to better patient outcomes.

Meet Our Pediatric Surgeons

Awan, Saeed MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050
Office: 714-364-4050

Dr. Saeed Awan is a board certified pediatric general and thoracic surgeon who treats children and teens at CHOC Children's in Orange County.

Gholizadeh, Maryam MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050
Office: 714-364-4050

Dr Maryam Gholizadeh is a board-certified pediatric surgeon who performs general and thoracic surgeries on infants, kids and teens at CHOC Children's.

Gibbs, David L. MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050
Office: 714-364-4050

Dr. Gibbs serves as director of trauma services at CHOC Children’s and is the CHOC Children’s Specialists division chief of pediatric surgery.

Guner, Yigit S. MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050
Office: 714-364-4050

Dr. Yigit Guner is a board-certified pediatric surgeon who performs general and thoracic surgeries on infants, kids and teens at CHOC Children's.

Kabeer, Mustafa H. MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050
Office: 714-364-4050

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer is a board-certified pediatric surgeon at CHOC Children's. He was the first physician to perform pediatric lung resection in the world.

Reyna, Troy M. MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050

Dr. Troy Reyna is a board-certified pediatric surgeon at CHOC Children's, and was one of the first physicians to introduce minimally invasive surgery for children.

Yu, Peter T. MD

Specialty: Pediatric Surgery
Appointments: 714-364-4050

Dr. Peter Yu is a board-certified pediatric surgeon who performs general and thoracic surgeries on infants, kids and teens at CHOC Children's.

To schedule a consultation with a CHOC Children’s pediatric surgeon, please call 714-364-4050.

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UC Irvine

CHOC Children's is affiliated with the UC Irvine School of Medicine