Intestinal atresia in children

Children's Health℠ is home to one of the nation’s largest Pediatric Intestinal Rehabilitation centers. With a wealth of specialty resources, our compassionate experts can care for babies with intestinal atresia (in·​tes·​ti·​nal - atre·​sia) by detecting, monitoring, and repairing blockages in newborns.

Together, our care team of specialists — including surgeons, physicians, dieticians and social workers — provide you and your baby with personalized and comprehensive care.

What is intestinal atresia in children?

Intestinal atresia is a condition where a baby’s bowels (which help them digest food) don’t develop properly, leading to blockages (obstructions) or missing portions of the bowel. Blockages happen when the tube-like intestine narrows or closes off entirely so that nothing can pass through. This can keep your baby from digesting food properly and getting the nutrients they need.

Intestinal atresia is often detected before a baby is born, often because the mom’s amniotic fluid levels are high. It can also be identified a few days after birth based on symptoms.

What are the different types of intestinal atresia in children?

There are several types of intestinal atresia, named for the part of the digestive tract where the blockage occurs.

Jejunoileal atresia

This is the most common type of intestinal atresia. Jejunoileal atresia occurs when there is an obstruction in the middle part of the small intestine. Depending on the precise location of the blockage, it may be further classified as jejunal or ileal atresia.

Duodenal atresia

This is the second most common form of intestinal atresia but the most common to be diagnosed before a baby is born (prenatally). Duodenal atresia happens when there is a blockage in the first portion of the small intestine.

Pyloric atresia

This is the rarest form of intestinal atresia. Pyloric atresia happens when a blockage forms where the stomach connects to the small bowel.

Colonic atresia

Also rare, colonic atresia happens when the blockage occurs in the large intestine (colon).

What are the signs and symptoms of intestinal atresia in children?

Before a baby is born, extra fluid surrounding them (amniotic fluid) during fetal development may be a sign of intestinal atresia.

After a baby is born, symptoms of intestinal atresia may include:

  • Not having their first bowel movement
  • Lack of interest in feedings
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Vomiting after feeding

How is intestinal atresia in children diagnosed?

Intestinal atresia can be diagnosed during a prenatal (before birth) ultrasound or MRI, during which your doctor can measure the amount of amniotic fluid in the womb. High levels of fluid may be a sign of intestinal atresia.

After birth, if your baby is showing signs of intestinal atresia, our care experts will use imaging tests to look at your child’s digestive system and start planning treatment.

Tests may include:

Pediatric X-Ray

Pediatric Ultrasound (Sonogram)

Pediatric Computer Tomography

What causes intestinal atresia in children?

Intestinal atresia is a condition babies are born with (congenital) and occurs while their organs are forming. It may be caused by low blood flow to the baby’s intestines during early development.

How is intestinal atresia in children treated?


Surgical treatment can help most children with intestinal atresia live long and healthy lives. Babies with intestinal atresia need surgery within their first days of life to help reopen or reconnect the blocked or missing sections of the intestine.

Your child’s care team will talk to you about the type of surgery that will be best for your child. Depending on the type and degree of atresia, your baby may need open, laparoscopic, or minimal access surgery.

After care

After surgery to remove the bowel’s obstruction and reconnect the digestive system, good nutrition can be challenging, so follow-up care is essential. While their intestines heal, children may require special types of feeding tubes (g-tubes) or other nutritional aids total parenteral nutrition (TPN).

Your baby will likely stay with us in the hospital for 3-4 weeks for monitoring.

Intestinal atresia in children doctors and providers

As a large referral NICU for other hospitals, our specialists are experts at diagnosing and treating intestinal atresia. As a team, we work quickly to get your child the treatment they need to grow, thrive, and live healthy, active lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens after surgery?

    As your baby heals from surgery, we will monitor their health and help them get the nutrition they need to thrive. Most children can go home in about 3-4 weeks.

  • Will my baby need a feeding tube?

    Immediately after surgery, your baby may need a temporary feeding tube to help them get nutrition. However, once their body heals and their intestines can process food and waste, they won't need a feeding tube.