Gastroschisis in Newborns: A Dangerous Birth Defect

Gastroschisis is a life-threatening condition. You need treatment as soon as possible after birth so that the baby's organs can develop. Learn about gastroschisis in newborns in this article.
Gastroschisis in Newborns: A Dangerous Birth Defect
María Vijande

Reviewed and approved by the pharmacist María Vijande.

Written by María Vijande

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Gastroschisis in newborns is one of the most frequent congenital malformations, but the majority of the population doesn’t know anything about it. This malformation, or birth defect, occurs when the muscles in the baby’s abdominal wall don’t form properly in early pregnancy.

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As a result, gastroschisis in newborns means that there’s a hole in the abdominal wall through which the baby’s intestines and other organs exit. This opening is usually located towards the right side of the navel. Because the intestines are exposed to the amniotic fluid, they can become irritated. For this reason, they can be shortened, swollen, or twisted.

Immediately after birth, the baby will need surgery to place their organs inside their abdominal cavity, as well as to repair the abdominal wall. Despite surgery, babies who have gastroschisis may have problems with feeding, digestion, and nutrient absorption.

Causes and risk factors of gastroschisis in newborns

Some cases of gastroschisis in newborns are due to genetic mutations. On the other hand, this condition can also develop due to the combination of genetic factors and aspects of the mother’s pregnancy. The following are factors that may increase the risk of having a baby who suffers from gastroschisis:

  • Being a mother at an early age: teenage mothers are more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis than older mothers.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use: Women who smoke and use alcohol are at higher risk of having babies with gastroschisis, among other very serious diseases and conditions.

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Diagnosis and treatment

Gastroschisis in newborns baby with tiny deformed feet.

Diagnosis of gastroschisis in newborns can occur before birth. In order to make a diagnosis, the pregnant woman must be screened for malformations.

Diagnosis can happen prior to birth or as soon as the baby is born. Medical professionals can do malformation detection tests during pregnancy. As a result, thanks to special types of analyses, gastroschisis in newborns can be detected while the woman is still pregnant. In addition, this condition is visible with the help of an ultrasound.

When it comes to treatment, gastroschisis is a life-threatening condition. The baby will need treatment as soon as possible after birth so that the organs can develop and be protected inside the abdomen.

In the event that the defect is minor, surgeons may be able to treat the condition with a single intervention. However, if it’s a serious birth defect, meaning many organs are located outside the abdomen, it may be necessary to have many surgical interventions. After surgery, the baby goes to the neonatal intensive care unit.

Risks of surgery

The risks of anesthesia and general surgery include the following:

Additionally, these are the risks related to the repair of gastroschisis:

  • Respiratory problems: These can appear if the baby’s abdominal space is smaller than normal. The newborn may need a breathing tube and a respirator for a few days or weeks after surgery.
  • Inflammation of the tissue that lines the abdominal wall
  • Organ injury
  • Temporary paralysis of the small intestine
  • Hernia of the abdominal wall

Additional treatments for gastroschisis in newborns

Baby with gastroschisis in newborns.

In addition to gastroschisis repair surgery, the newborn will need nasogastric tube nutrition as well as intravenous fluids and nutrients.

In addition to surgery, babies with gastroschisis often need other treatments as well:

  • Nutrition via a nasogastric tube placed in the nose to empty the stomach and keep it that way
  • Intravenous fluids and nutrients
  • Oxygen
  • Antibiotics to prevent infections
  • Analgesics

Feeding begins via a nasogastric tube as soon as the baby’s bowel function resumes after surgery. However, the transition to oral feeding will be very slow. Medical discharge usually occurs within 15 to 25 days after admission.

Gastroschisis prevention

To prevent gastroschisis in newborns, adequate prenatal care, as well as healthy habits, are very important. In addition, it’s important to see your doctor for all the necessary consultations to prevent complications. Once your doctor has made the diagnosis, you will need specialized attention and proper follow-up.

In these cases, ultrasound will play an important part. You’ll need weekly ultrasound checkups starting from your thirtieth week of gestation.

Generally, newborns with gastroschisis have a low birth weight and between 10 and 20% have intestinal malformations. However, the baby’s prognosis will depend largely on the degree of intestinal distress.

The survival of babies suffering from this condition has improved significantly in recent years. This advancement is thanks, in large part, to early detection and prenatal monitoring protocols, as well as appropriate intensive care.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.