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What is gastroschisis?

Gastroschisis is a birth defect of the abdominal (belly) wall. The baby’s intestines stick outside of the baby’s body, through a hole beside the belly button. The hole can be small or large and sometimes other organs, such as the stomach and liver, can also stick outside of the baby’s body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1,871 babies are born each year in the United States with gastroschisis.

Gastroschisis occurs early during pregnancy when the muscles that make up the fetus’s abdominal wall do not form correctly. A hole occurs, which allows the intestines and other organs to extend outside of the body, usually to the right side of the belly button. Because the intestines are not covered in a protective sac and are exposed to the amniotic fluid, the bowel can become irritated, causing it to shorten, twist, or swell.

Soon after the baby is born, surgery will be needed to place the abdominal organs inside the baby's body and repair the abdominal wall. Even after the repair, infants with gastroschisis can have problems with feeding, digestion of food and absorption of nutrients.

Gastroschisis, which means "belly cleft" in Greek, typically appears as a 2- to 4-centimeter opening of the abdomen, on the right side of the umbilical cord, according to the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

Gastroschisis is less severe than an omphalocele, but is still a dangerous condition that results in death in about 15 percent of cases.

The condition is the most common problem with the abdominal wall. About 40 percent of babies born with gastroschisis are either undersized or are born prematurely.

When a baby has gastroschisis, nothing is covering the baby's exposed intestine, which causes it to come into contact with the amniotic fluid while the fetus is still in the womb. When this occurs, a hard film develops around the intestine. That hinders the newborn's intestinal function and that can last for months.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.