Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Abdominal Wall Defects

Specialized care for birth defects that allow digestive organs to protrude through the abdomen

Abdominal wall defects are birth defects that allow organs such as the intestines or stomach to push out of the body through a hole in the belly. The most common abdominal wall defects are gastroschisis and omphalocele.  

With proper and timely treatment, most children survive abdominal wall defects. As the leading pediatric academic health system on Florida’s west coast, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, has expertise in treating defects of the abdominal wall. The intestinal rehabilitation program called CUIRE (Care Under Intestinal Rehabilitation Excellence) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s consists of a team of specialists, including a neonatologist, advanced nurse practitioner, gastroenterologist, pediatric surgeon, intestinal rehabilitation-trained dietitian, pharmacist and speech therapist, all focused on giving patients with abdominal wall defects the best possible outcome. 

Digestive organs such as the intestines or stomach commonly begin growing outside the baby’s abdomen during fetal development. But as the baby grows, the organs generally move in and become enclosed by the abdominal wall. When the wall does not close properly, the baby has an abdominal wall defect. 

What Are the Most Common Abdominal Wall Defects in Fetuses? 

  • Gastroschisis, a hole near the belly button allows the intestines and sometimes other organs to protrude uncovered into the amniotic fluid. LEARN MORE 
  • Omphalocele, organs covered by a thin membrane — or sac — protrude through the belly button. An omphalocele is often accompanied by other birth defects and genetic syndromes. You may be referred to one of our genetic specialists for additional testing. LEARN MORE 

What Causes Abdominal Wall Defects? 

Multiple genetic and environmental causes may contribute to abdominal wall defects, but gastroschisis and omphalocele occur in different ways during fetal development. Each develops early in the pregnancy. 

Omphalocele results from an error in digestive tract development. The intestines normally protrude into the umbilical cord during development but recede into the abdomen during the sixth to 10th week of pregnancy. When they do not, an omphalocele results and may allow other organs to protrude. 

The cause of gastroschisis is less well understood, though it may relate to blood flow to the digestive tract early during fetal development. 



We know that you want the best possible care for you and your unborn child. Our team is happy to assist you with your questions.

Get to Know Neonatologist and Peruvian American, Dr. Prem Fort

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is home to a 97-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) offering the highest level of care. During NICU awareness month and Hispanic Heritage month, we’re taking the time out to get to know Dr. Prem Fort, a Peruvian-American, and what drives his passion to help our tiniest patients.

Read More

Dr. Karen Raimer Relies on Personal Experience to Help Mothers through Difficult Pregnancies

A key leader of the maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, Karen Raimer, M.D. shares her experiences as a mother of eight to connect with her patients.

Read More

Comprehensive Model for High-risk Pregnancies

Guiding expectant mothers through challenges and on to a successful birth often requires expertise and collaboration.

Read More

Early Birth, Extraordinary Care

Kassi was born prematurely at 31 weeks with Down syndrome and faced heart issues, breathing problems, kidney disease and feeding issues. The Johns Hopkins All Children’s Fetal, Maternal & Neonatal Institute managed and coordinated her early care, working to build her strength and size so she could thrive on her own.

Read More

Kangaroo Care Creates Bond Between Baby and Parent

Kangaroo Care creates a bond between babies and their parents that has proven to have benefits for all involved.

Read More

Newborn Nectar

Mother’s own milk is proving to be the best medicine for low-weight preemies.

Read More

Born at 1.1 Pounds, She's Headed Home

A premature baby meets many challenges as she gets ready to finally leave the hospital.

Read More