Gastroschisis is a birth defect of the abdominal (belly) wall. It happens when the muscles that make up the abdominal wall don’t connect properly, forming a hole beside the belly button. A baby with gastroschisis is born with his intestines, and sometimes other organs, outside of the body.

Normally, the intestines, stomach, liver, bladder and other organs grow outside your baby’s body at first. The organs usually move inside the body before the baby is born. Gastroschisis happens during early pregnancy when the muscles that make up a baby’s abdominal wall don’t connect properly. A hole in the abdominal wall forms beside the belly button and the intestines and other organs, like the stomach or liver, can poke through the hole and out of the body. The hole can be small or large but is usually 1 to 2 inches in size.

What causes gastroschisis?

We don’t know what causes gastroschisis, but some things may make you more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis than others. These are called risk factors.

Risk factors for gastroschisis include:

  • Age. Teen mothers are more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis than mothers who are 20 years old or older.
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking during pregnancy. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
  • Genes changes (also called mutations). Genes are the parts of your body’s cells that store instructions for the way your body grows and works. Genes are passed from parents to children. A gene can change on its own, or it can be passed from parents to children. Changes in genes are sometimes linked to gastroschisis. If gastroschisis runs in your family, you may want to talk to a genetic counselor. Gastroschisis usually happens in babies with no family history of the condition.
  • Poor nutrition. Women who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables may be at increased risk of having a baby with gastroschisis. Eat healthy foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables, to help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
  • Taking opioids during pregnancy. Prescription opioids are painkillers often used for pain after an injury, surgery or dental work. They include codeine, morphine and oxycodone. Ask your provider if there’s a safer medicine you can switch to during pregnancy to manage your pain. Don’t stop taking an opioid without talking to your provider first. Quitting suddenly can cause severe problems for your baby. 

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean for sure that your baby will be affected. But it may increase your chances. Talk to your provider about things you can do to help reduce your risk for gastroschisis. To learn more visit