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Gastroschisis is a birth defect in which a baby’s abdominal wall doesn’t form fully during fetal development. As a result, a baby’s intestines protrude outside the belly, which can cause complications such as preterm delivery and poor fetal growth.

If you’re facing this diagnosis, the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute has an experienced team that is prepared to monitor your baby’s condition and provide comprehensive care before, during and after your delivery.

Most babies with gastroschisis can be delivered vaginally without additional complications. After delivery, the treatment of choice for gastroschisis is surgical repair. This surgery closes the abdominal wall defect and is often performed the same day your baby is born.

baby with gastroschisis with intestine outside of belly

This graphic shows a baby with gastroschisis where the intestine is protruding from the belly.

How Is Gastroschisis Managed During Pregnancy?

Gastroschisis can be diagnosed as early as 14 weeks into a pregnancy through a routine ultrasound.

When are you referred to the Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute with a diagnosis of gastroschisis, our dedicated and multi-disciplinary team focuses on monitoring you and your baby’s health. This includes performing ultrasounds and fetal heart rate monitoring to carefully watch for any signs of fetal distress.

If doctors notice that the hole in the abdomen is closing too tightly around the intestines, early delivery may be needed. Many babies with gastroschisis arrive a few weeks early, around 36 to 37 weeks.

During your pregnancy, you will meet with our neonatologists and pediatric surgeons to decide the best treatment for your child after delivery. You will also have the opportunity to visit our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where your baby will receive the necessary care before and after surgery.

How Will Gastroschisis Affect My Baby After Delivery?

At SSM Health, your little one will receive the specialized care in a state-of-the art hospital that has the equipment, team and experience to meet their needs. When your baby is born, their exposed intestines will be covered with a special, sterile plastic bag, and a nasogastric (NG) tube will be inserted through the nose or mouth. This tube prevents your baby from choking and breathing stomach contents into the lungs.

Babies with gastroschisis often undergo surgery to close the abdominal wall defect the day they are born.

In more severe cases, your baby will receive a silo, a special silicone sack that is placed over the exposed intestines. Over the course of a few days, the sack is made smaller and smaller, pushing the intestines back into the abdomen. Once the intestines are back in the abdomen, the muscle and skin are closed over the hole.

From here, your baby will spend four to six weeks in the NICU following surgery. In the NICU, your baby receives the full range of support, including help breathing, feeding and reducing pain. It will take a while for your baby to develop the contractions needed to help move food through the intestinal tract. When this kicks in, your baby will start feeding normally and can head home.

In some cases, your child may need extra feeding support after surgery. The Glennon Intestinal Rehabilitation and Feeding (GIRAF) team can provide ongoing, coordinated care to ensure your child can adequately digest and absorb nutrients and fluids.

In rare cases, babies with gastroschisis may have a bowel obstruction, or part of the intestine may be narrowed or missing (atresia), which may require additional surgery.

Your baby might also be smaller at birth due to this condition. But most babies with gastroschisis tend to catch up with other children their age and go on to develop normally.

We understand that gastroschisis can be a scary diagnosis. That’s why we’re available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at 314-268-4037 or toll free at 877-SSM-FETL (877-776-3385).

Patient Stories About Gastroschisis

Girl holding flower

At the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute, we understand the fear and confusion that come with the diganosis of a prenatal medical condition. We share these patient stories to offer comfort, hope, and inspiration from other parents who have been where you are. Know that you are not alone - our team is here to support you every step of the way.

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