by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Intestinal atresia is a birth defect that causes blockages in the intestine. This surgery removes the damaged area and connect the healthy ends.

Reasons for Procedure

A blockage of the intestine can be deadly. Surgery is done to let food pass through the intestines. More than one surgery may be needed.

Normal Anatomy of the Abdominal Organs
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Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Scarring that causes a blockage
  • Leakage from where intestines were reconnected
  • The need for another surgery
  • Short bowel syndrome—problems absorbing nutrients when a large segment of intestine is removed

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Atresia may be found before birth. A plan will be made to make repairs soon after the baby is born. Repairs cannot be made prior to the baby’s birth.

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies your baby may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that your baby takes and whether they need to be stopped before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery


General anesthesia will be used. Your baby will be asleep.

Description of the Procedure

An incision will be made in the belly. The damaged part of the intestine will be removed. The healthy ends of the intestine will be connected. The incision will be closed. Bandages will be placed over the area.

The intestine may not be able to be reconnected right away. An opening may be made in the skin and belly wall. The upper part of the remaining intestine is attached to this opening. This will allow waste to pass out of the body into an attached bag. This will let the lower intestine heal or lengthen enough to reconnect later.

How Long Will It Take?

It depends on how much repair is needed.

Will It Hurt?

Pain and swelling are common in the first 1 to 2 weeks. Medicine and home care help.

Average Hospital Stay

The length of stay depends on how much repair was needed. Proper feeding, weight gain, and bowel function are needed before the baby can go home. This may take several weeks.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may give:

  • Pain medicine
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • IV fluids and nutritional support

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your baby's risk of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your baby's incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to lower your baby’s risk of infection such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your baby's incisions
At Home

It will take some time for full recovery. A special diet will be needed to make sure your baby is getting nutrition.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if your baby is not getting better or has:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Redness, swelling, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision
  • Pain that cannot be controlled with medicine
  • New or worsening symptoms

Call for emergency medical service right away if your baby has:

  • Problems breathing
  • Signs of bowel obstruction, such as:
    • Belly swelling or hardness
    • Green or yellow vomit

If you think your baby has an emergency, call for medical help right away.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

March of Dimes 


March of Dimes Canada 

Public Health Agency of Canada 


Intestinal atresia and stenosis in children. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Intestinal atresia or stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Surgical repair of the small bowel. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Vinocur DN, Lee EY, et al. Neonatal intestinal obstruction. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2012 Jan;198(1):W1-10.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2020
  • Update Date: 04/21/2021