An inguinal hernia occurs when the intestines bulge through a weakness or opening in the abdomen wall. This type of hernia is located in the groin area and will usually be visible as a lump under the skin. Most inguinal hernias appear in boys and premature babies. Boys are more likely to develop this hernia than girls.
What causes it?
Around the seventh month of pregnancy, the testes (for boys) move down from the abdomen into the groin area as the baby develops. The testes move through a passage called the inguinal canal which then begins to close before birth. However, if this doesn’t occur, the bowel may bulge through the abdomen wall into the passage causing a hernia.
These hernias are not caused by straining or crying.
Signs and symptoms
The inguinal hernia will appear as a smooth lump in the groin or scrotum area when your baby is crying or straining. It may also disappear when your baby is relaxed and lying down. The hernia is usually painless or causes only mild discomfort and may occur on either side of the body.
If the hernia doesn’t reduce spontaneously with a few hours, medical attention will be required as the blood supply to the bowel or testes can be cut off.
What is the treatment?
Surgery (known as a herniotomy) is always needed to prevent the hernia causing difficulties later.
Your child’s inguinal hernia will be repaired during an operation lasting 60 minutes. This is usually done under an anaesthetic and involves a small cut in the natural skin crease in the groin. The surgeon will empty the sac back into the groin and then tie it off. Your child will have a small and barely noticeable scar.
What happens after the operation?
Your child’s doctor will speak to you after the operation and let you know how everything went. This will be your opportunity to ask questions. Your child should be able to go home about two hours after the operation.
Care at home
There will be a small plastic dressing covering the wound. The dressings may be left on until they fall off or until your child’s return for their outpatient appointment.
It’s important to keep the dressing as dry as possible. Infants should be given sponge baths and older children may take quick showers until the dressing is removed.
Will there be a scar?
The scars will be very small and fade in six to 12 months. The stitches will dissolve by themselves and do not need to be removed.
Do I give my child pain relief?
After surgery it is important to provide regular pain relief for your child at home to ensure they are comfortable during their recovery. Medications such as paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory drug such as Ibuprofen (Nurofen©) should be sufficient to relieve your child’s discomfort. These medications are available over the counter at pharmacies.
Your anaesthesist, surgeon, pharmacist and/or nursing staff will discuss the suitability of these medications for your child before you go home.
If your child has bleeding problems or asthma, it is recommended that you consult a doctor before you give them Ibuprofen (Nurofen©). Do NOT give Asprin to your child.
When can my child eat and drink again?
When your child wakes up, they may have clear fluids (water, cordial etc.) and light foods such as toast or a sandwich.
Most children continue with their normal diet the next day. Babies may have clear fluids to start with, then their breast milk or formula as usual.
If your child experiences nausea or vomiting when home — stop food and fluids for one hour then give sips of clear fluid, dry toast or a biscuit.
Queensland Children’s Hospital
501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
In an emergency, always call 000.
If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.