Gastroschisis is when a baby is born with the intestines sticking out through a hole in the belly wall near the umbilical cord. Sometimes other organs also stick out. Gastroschisis (gast-roh-SKEE-sis) is a life-threatening condition that needs treatment right away.
Doctors don't know why gastroschisis happens. It is probably due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. During pregnancy, the intestines grow correctly at first, but then do not go back inside the belly as they usually do.
can't fit in the baby's belly because of the swelling
doesn't absorb nutrients well when it's outside of the body
may have been damaged during pregnancy or birth
The care team puts the baby's lower half and the intestines in a special plastic bag to:
keep the intestines from losing too much water
reduce heat loss
Often, the intestines don't fit in the belly because they're swollen. If so, the surgeon usually arranges the intestines in a bag called a silo to:
let the water move out of the intestines so they shrink to normal size
allow the intestines to slowly move into the belly
The care team gradually tightens the silo as the intestines return to normal size. Putting the intestines back into the belly with a silo usually takes about 3–4 days, but may take longer.
What Problems Can Happen?
The intestines of a child with gastroschisis may not work well even after they're returned to the belly. So moving a baby from IV feeding to feeding by mouth can take a long time. It may be a month or longer before the intestines can absorb nutrients well enough to support the baby without help from the IV.
After the pediatric surgeon returns the intestines to the belly, the newborn:
may need help breathing because the intestines and other organs in the belly push up on the breathing muscle ()
usually stays in the hospital for several weeks
gets IV feeding until the intestines heal
slowly begins to digest pumped breast milk or formula, which can be given through:
A baby whose healthy small intestine is much shorter than usual can have a rare condition called short gut syndrome (or short bowel syndrome). This means the baby can't absorb enough nutrition from digested food to grow and thrive. This can happen if:
The gastroschisis abdominal wall defect partially closes and restricts blood flow to the intestine.
The intestine twists and cuts off its own blood supply.
A baby with short gut syndrome needs extra nutritional support and other medical care.
What Else Should I Know?
Almost all babies born with gastroschisis survive if they receive prompt treatment.
The medical challenges of gastroschisis can be stressful for your child and you. But you're not alone. The care team will work together to help manage problems, and to support your family.
You also can find more information and support online at Avery's Angels.