Gastroschisis is a congenital condition where there is incomplete formation of the abdominal wall so that the contents protrude outside the body. There is no membrane (peritoneum) covering the abdominal contents. The opening will be located to the right of the umbilicus (belly button), which will be normal. Typically, the opening is very small, but it can sometimes be quite large in size. The amount and type of abdominal contents that is protruding varies as well, but it is typically intestinal tissue. The liver is hardly ever protruding through the opening, but sometimes the stomach will be involved. The bowel tissue will float in the amniotic fluid before birth, and this contact with amniotic fluid may damage the bowel tissue, causing it to be abnormal in appearance and function.
Sometimes gastroschisis can be detected very early in pregnancy on a fetal ultrasound or by an elevated maternal or amniotic serum alpha-fetoprotein level. Once detected, the baby may sometimes be delivered early (perhaps at 35 weeks instead of at 40 weeks, which is full-term) to limit the damage to the bowel tissue. Gastroschisis occurs in about 2 of 10,000 live births, and 75% of the time it occurs in first-born children. Slightly more boys than girls are born with this condition. It is very rare for this condition to recur in subsequent pregnancies. Using data from Minnesota births between 2014-2018, we found 98 babies were born with gastroschisis, resulting in a rate of 3 babies per 10,000 births. Annually, about 20 babies were born with gastroschisis.