What is omphalocele?

An omphalocele is a birth defect in which the infant's intestine or other abdominal organs stick out of the belly button, or navel. In babies with an omphalocele, the intestines are covered only by a thin layer of tissue and can be easily seen. Approximately 25 percent to 40 percent of infants with an omphalocele have other birth defects, which may include genetic problems, congenital diaphragmatic hernia and heart defects.


An omphalocele can be clearly seen because the abdominal contents stick out through the belly button area. There are different sizes of omphaloceles. In small ones, only the intestines stick out. In larger ones, the liver or spleen may stick out of the body as well.


Prenatal ultrasounds often identify infants with an omphalocele before birth. Otherwise, physical examination of the infant is sufficient to diagnose this condition. Testing is usually not necessary.


  • Omphaloceles are repaired with surgery, although not always immediately. A sac protects the abdominal contents and allows time for other more serious problems (such as heart defects) to be dealt with first, if necessary.
  • To fix an omphalocele, the sac is covered with a special synthetic material, which is then stitched in place. Slowly, over time, the abdominal contents are pushed into the abdomen. When the omphalocele can comfortably fit within the abdominal cavity, the synthetic material is removed and the abdomen is closed.
  • Sometimes the omphalocele is so large that it cannot be place back inside the infants abdomen. The skin around the omphalocele grows and eventually covers the omphalocele. The abdominal muscles and skin can be repaired when the child is older in order to achieve a better cosmetic outcome.


Complete recovery is expected after surgery for an omphalocele. However, omphaloceles are frequently associated with other birth defects. How well a child does depends on any other conditions.

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