What is a pregnancy hernia?
A hernia is a hole in the muscular layer of the abdominal wall that causes intestinal or fatty tissue within the abdomen to stick out. The development of a hernia during pregnancy is not uncommon, because hernias are caused by an increase in abdominal pressure – in this case, pressure from a baby growing inside the uterus.
Once formed, a hernia does not disappear; it will remain until it is repaired. Not all hernias require repair, particularly those that are not causing any symptoms. However, some hernias can be painful and occasionally cause intestinal obstruction.
Treating a pregnancy hernia
Most hernias diagnosed during pregnancy can be treated without surgery. But if surgery is necessary, it can usually be delayed until several months after the baby is born.
Surgeons can usually perform laparoscopic techniques to fix a hernia, using three tiny incisions and a camera, thus avoiding the need for a larger open incision. Hernias are generally repaired with a soft, pliable material called mesh, which is sewn around the hernia to reinforce the defect in musculature. However, because mesh does not stretch, the surgery is not recommended for women while they are pregnant.
Should I have surgery to repair my hernia while I'm pregnant?
Repairing a hernia during pregnancy can be a risky operation. During the first trimester (1-3 months), the likelihood of a miscarriage is increased with an elective operation, and during the third trimester (7-9 months), the possibility of pre-term labor is increased. Elective surgery should only be considered during the second trimester (4-6 months), and even then the growing baby will place increased strain on the repair, which could lead to a recurrence of the hernia.
Will the hernia cause complications during my pregnancy or delivery?
If you have a hernia while you are pregnant, you may experience some pain or discomfort, or you may have no symptoms at all. In many cases, the hernia actually becomes less painful in the later stages of pregnancy because the growing uterus blocks the hole in the muscles.
Even with a hernia, a Caesarean section is not usually necessary. Almost all women can safely deliver a baby vaginally. Your obstetrician or midwife can help you throughout the delivery process to ensure the hernia does not become a problem.