What Is Gastroschisis?

Gastrochisis is a rare birth defect.  It happens in about one in 5,000 births.  Gastroschisis is where the stomach and bowel are formed on the outside of the baby’s belly.  This happens during the fourth week of pregnancy. 

The opening is usually on the right side of the belly button and is usually less than 2 inches in size.  The bowel is unprotected so there is a chance it can be irritated, swollen and damaged.   

About 10 percent of babies born with gastroschisis also have a part of the bowel that does not develop correctly.  Most babies with gastroschisis do not have any other birth defects.

We do not know what causes gastroschisis.  It does not appear to be inherited or "run in families." 

Having one baby with gastroschisis does not make it more likely that you would have another baby with it. 

Gastroschisis may be seen by ultrasound early in the pregnancy.  Many pregnant women have blood drawn.  If there are any abnormal lab results, the doctor will look for birth defects with a more detailed ultrasound. 

If the baby has gastroschisis, the doctor will see loops of bowel floating freely. The mother and family usually meet with a surgeon to discuss the plan for delivery and plans for the baby once born. 

Planning for Delivery 

It is best to plan to deliver in a hospital with a special unit that takes care of sick babies right after birth.  The doctor may suggest a caesarean section at about 36 weeks of pregnancy if the baby’s lungs are mature.

If the baby has a small amount of bowel outside his or her body, this might be repaired with one surgery. This is called a “primary repair.” During the surgery, the bowel is placed in the belly and the opening is closed. 

If the baby has a large amount of bowel outside the body, several surgeries may be needed. This is called a “staged repair.”  This might take three to 10 days, sometimes longer. A plastic pouch or “silo” is placed around the bowel and attached to the belly. Every day the silo is tightened and some of the bowel is gently pushed inside. When all the bowel is inside, the silo is removed and the belly is surgically closed. Some babies may need the help of a breathing machine for a few days after the surgery or surgeries.  

While the baby is recovering from surgery, IV nutrition along with drugs for comfort are given.  Once the bowel is functioning, breast milk or special formula will begin.   Skilled staff will take care of the baby and help the family make a plan for care in the hospital and at home.   

Last Updated 01/2016