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Omphalocele occurs when an unborn baby’s abdominal muscles do not form correctly, creating an opening in the navel, or belly button. The unborn baby’s intestines, liver or other organs push through this opening. A thin sac from the umbilical cord covers and protects these protruding organs from amniotic fluid.

Omphalocele Treatment: Why Choose Us?

If your unborn baby has omphalocele, doctors at the Fetal Care Center and neonatologists, pediatric surgeons and gastroenterology specialists at St. Louis Children’s Hospital provide treatment.

About Omphalocele

Omphalocele is a very rare birth defect, affecting approximately 1 out of every 5,380 newborns.

With omphalocele, the abdominal openings vary in size. The condition is more serious when several organs protrude through a large hole.

Diagram of Omphaloceles

About 75 percent of babies with omphalocele have other health problems, including:

  • Organ abnormalities or damage
  • Chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome or trisomy 18
  • Problems eating, digesting food and absorbing nutrients
  • Small abdominal cavity

Causes of Omphalocele

Omphalocele has no known cause. If your baby has omphalocele and a chromosomal abnormality, you have a slightly higher risk of having another baby with the same problems. Our genetic counselors can help you understand your risk for omphalocele in future pregnancies.

Diagnosing Omphalocele

Our maternal-fetal medicine specialists and ultrasound experts use the latest ultrasound technology to detect omphalocele in unborn babies. These specialists perform thousands of obstetrical and gynecological ultrasounds every year.

Thanks to this high volume and experience, we’re able to distinguish between omphalocele and a similar condition called gastroschisis.

Your doctor may order genetic tests to determine if your unborn baby also has a chromosomal abnormality. These tests include:

  • Genetic amniocentesis: Your doctor tests amniotic fluid to detect chromosomal abnormalities.
  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS): Your doctor takes a sample of placental tissue made of chorionic villus cells to test for chromosomal birth defects like Down syndrome.

Learn more about high-risk pregnancy tests.

Treating Omphalocele

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists at the Fetal Care Center provide exceptional care throughout your pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy, you undergo regular ultrasounds to check your unborn baby’s development. Babies with omphalocele are more likely to be undernourished and small.

We recommend delivering at a facility that specializes in high-risk pregnancies, such as the Women & Infants Center. Depending on the size of the omphalocele, you may need to deliver via cesarean section. 

After delivery, your baby receives advanced medical care in our Level IV Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which is connected to labor and delivery. Your baby may need a tube to drain stomach fluids and excess air. Some babies also need breathing tubes for extra help.

Surgery to correct a small omphalocele may take place a few days after your baby’s birth. If the opening is large, your doctor may recommend waiting six to nine months. This extra time allows your baby’s body to grow and accommodate the organs.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University fetal care specialist at the Women & Infants Center, call 855.925.0631.