Inguinal Hernia (Infant)

Front view of male infant's lower body showing inguinal hernia.

Male fetuses have a passage that connects the belly and scrotum. This passage is called the inguinal canal. Female fetuses also have an inguinal canal that connects the belly with the labia. In boys, the testicles form in the belly. Just before birth, the testicles move down through the passage into the scrotum. In females, a ligament from the uterus passes through the passage. In both boys and girls, the passage normally closes before birth. If it does not, a loop of the intestine can move down from the belly through the passage in the groin. This is called a hernia. Although females can get inguinal hernias, they are much more common in males.

A hernia may appear as a bulge in the groin (or scrotum in males). It may become more noticeable if your child is crying or struggling.

The condition of the hernia can help determine how urgently it needs to be treated:

  • Reducible. It goes back in by itself, or it can be pushed back in.

  • Irreducible. It can’t be pushed back in.

  • Incarcerated/strangulated. The intestine is trapped (incarcerated). If this happens, you won’t be able to push the hernia back in. If the trapped hernia isn’t treated, it may become strangulated. This means the area loses blood supply and the tissue may die. This requires emergency surgery. Your child needs treatment right away.

To reduce the risk of a simple hernia becoming trapped and becoming serious, surgery is advised for all infants with a hernia.

Home care

Until treatment is scheduled, you may be advised to check your child’s hernia regularly to make sure it doesn’t worsen. Surgery is the preferred option for hernias that are larger, recurrent, or cause symptoms.

As long as the hernia can move back into the belly, it’s usually not an immediate problem.

If the hernia gets larger and you can’t push it flat, this is a serious problem. Try to reduce it right away as follows:

  • Lay your child down on his or her back. Place a few towels under the buttocks to raise the lower body higher than the upper body.

  • Apply gentle steady pressure to the bulge with your flattened fingers or the palm of your hand for up to 10 minutes. If your child appears to be in pain, you’re pressing too hard.

  • The hernia should slide back into the belly.

  • If the hernia does not go down after 10 minutes of steady pressure, go to the ER.

Follow-up care

Follow up with the healthcare provider, or as directed. Your child may need to evaluated by a surgeon. If imaging tests were done, they will be reviewed a doctor. You will be told the results and any new findings that might affect treatment.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away or go to your nearest emergency room (ER) if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Hernia hardens, swells, or grows larger

  • Hernia can no longer be pushed back into place

  • Crying that can’t be consoled

  • Crying or fussing when you touch the hernia

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