Omphalocele is a birth defect that creates a gap in the muscles and skin where the bellybutton should be. Abdominal tissue and organs, like the intestines, push through the gap to the outside of the body. The misplaced abdominal tissue and organs are enclosed in a sac.

The omphalocele may be small with just a section of intestines or can be large and involve several abdominal organs. It is often associated with other birth defects.

Normal Anatomy of the Abdominal Organs  
nucleus fact sheet image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.



Omphalocele develops before birth. During normal development, the baby’s intestines normally push out into the umbilical cord for a short time. In most babies, the intestines will move back into the abdomen as the baby grows. An omphalocele develops when the intestines do not move back into abdomen. The intestines keep the abdomen from closing properly.


Risk Factors  

Factors that may increase the risk of this birth defect include:

  • Maternal smoking
  • Alcohol use by mother during pregnancy
  • Maternal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) before and through first trimester of pregnancy—medication most often used for the treatment of depression or anxiety
  • Maternal use of asthma medication—before and through first trimester of pregnancy
  • Maternal overweight or obesity before pregnancy