Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Abdominal Wall Defects

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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What is an abdominal wall defect?

An abdominal wall defect is a gap in the skin and muscles of the belly. The intestines come out through the gap and are exposed to air.

  • Abdominal wall defects are birth defects that are visible right after birth

  • Your baby's intestines bulge out through a gap in the belly

  • The gap is usually in or near the belly button

  • Sometimes the intestines are covered by a thin membrane

  • If the intestines are not covered by a membrane, they can be irritated by amniotic fluid before birth

  • Your baby will need surgery to put the intestines back in the belly and close the gap

Babies with abdominal wall defects often have other birth defects or genetic problems (such as Down syndrome).

How can doctors tell if my baby has an abdominal wall defect?

Doctors usually find an abdominal wall defect during routine ultrasounds done during your pregnancy. If they don’t find the problem during your pregnancy, they will see it as soon as your baby is born.

How do doctors treat abdominal wall defects?

Doctors will treat your baby’s abdominal wall defect as soon as your baby is born. They will:

  • Use bandages to cover and protect baby’s intestines

  • Give the baby fluids and antibiotics by vein

  • Put a plastic tube down your baby's nose to drain stomach juices

  • Do surgery to put your baby's intestines back into the belly and close the opening

Sometimes doctors must take a few days to slowly stretch the skin of your baby’s stomach before surgery so there’s enough skin to cover the opening. If a large amount of intestine is sticking out of your baby’s belly, they may move it back into the belly a little at a time over several days or weeks.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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