An umbilical hernia occurs when the layers of a baby's abdominal wall don't close all the way when the umbilical cord comes off. Sometimes the doctor can't tell right away if an umbilical hernia will develop, but in some babies, we can. About 50% of black babies are born with umbilical hernias.
In newborns, umbilical hernias are not dangerous, they do not hurt, and they almost always go away on their own. (Inguinal hernias, located where the abdomen meets the leg, are different. They need to be fixed with surgery.)
You don't need to do anything if your baby has an umbilical hernia. The worry, of course, is that he will have an "outie" belly button and get teased in kindergarten. If it is still there when your child is four years old, it can be fixed with day-surgery. Over the decades, I have said that to several hundred parents, but I have only sent one child to a surgeon to get his umbilical hernia fixed.
Covering the Belly Button
What if a relative insists on putting something over your baby's umbilical hernia or belly button? If it is your beloved grandmother, I wouldn't argue with her. Just make sure that whatever she puts over the belly button is dry and will let air under it. As long as the skin stays dry, it is OK. It's not necessary, but it is OK.
Thanks to Janelle Aby MD, Stanford School Of Medicine, Newborn Nursery, and Lucille Packard Children's Hospital for the use of occasional photographs.