What Is Meconium Aspiration
is dark green fecal material that is produced in the intestines of a fetus
before birth. After delivery, your newborn will pass meconium stools for the
first few days of life. Stress your baby experiences before or during birth may
cause your baby to pass meconium stool while still in the uterus. The meconium
stool then mixes with the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus.
baby may then breathe the meconium and amniotic fluid mixture into their lungs shortly
before, during, or right after birth. This is known as meconium aspiration or
meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS).
MAS is often not life-threatening, it can cause significant health
complications for your newborn. And, if MAS is severe or untreated, it can be
What Causes Meconium
may occur when your baby experiences stress. Stress often results when the
amount of oxygen available to the fetus is reduced. Common causes of fetal stress
- a pregnancy that
goes past the due date (more than 40 weeks)
- difficult or long
- certain health
issues experienced by the mother, including hypertension (high blood pressure)
- an infection
that lasts more than 40 weeks can result in “aging” of the placenta. The
placenta is the organ that provides nourishment to the fetus in the womb. When
the placenta ages, it’s not able to deliver enough oxygen to the fetus. And, the
amount of amniotic fluid is decreased, which concentrates the meconium. As a
result, MAS is more common in overdue newborns, compared with premature or term
What Are the Symptoms of
distress is the most prominent symptom of MAS. Your infant may breathe rapidly
or grunt during breathing. Some newborns may stop breathing if their airways
are blocked by meconium. Your baby may also exhibit the following symptoms:
- a bluish skin
color, which is called cyanosis
- low blood
How Is Meconium Aspiration
diagnosis is made based on your newborn’s symptoms and the presence of meconium
in the amniotic fluid.
doctor will listen to your infant’s chest with a stethoscope to detect sounds
of abnormal breathing. There are a few methods commonly used to confirm the
- blood gas test to
evaluate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels
- chest X-ray to
see if material has entered your newborn’s lungs
- using a
laryngoscope to look at your baby’s vocal cords to look for meconium staining
How Is Meconium Aspiration
MAS occurs, your newborn will need immediate treatment to remove the meconium
from the upper airway. After delivery, your doctor will immediately suction the
nose, mouth, and throat. Then, a tube will be placed in your newborn’s windpipe
(trachea) to suction the fluid containing meconium from the windpipe. The
suctioning will continue until no meconium is seen in the material removed.
your newborn is not breathing or has a low heart rate, your doctor will use a
bag and mask to help them breathe. This will deliver oxygen to your baby and
help inflate their lungs. Your doctor may need to place a tube in your
newborn’s windpipe to help them breathe if the infant is very ill or not
breathing on their own.
emergency treatment has been provided, your newborn may be placed in a special care
unit to observe their breathing. Additional treatment may be needed to avoid
complications of MAS. Five common treatments include:
- antibiotics, such as ampicillin and gentamicin to prevent or treat an
- the use of
a ventilator, a breathing
machine, to help your infant breathe
- extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) if your baby is not
responding to other treatments or has high blood pressure in the lungs (for
this treatment, a pump and machine that performs the function of the lungs do
the work of your newborn’s heart and lungs so that these organs can heal)
- oxygen therapy to make sure there is enough in the blood
- the use of
a radiant warmer to
help your baby maintain body temperature
What Complications Are
Associated with Meconium Aspiration?
newborns with MAS will not have any long-term health complications. However,
MAS is a serious issue that can have an immediate impact on your newborn’s
health. Meconium in the lungs can cause inflammation and infection.
can also block the airways, which can cause lung overexpansion. If a lung overexpands
or inflates too much, it can rupture or collapse. Then air from inside the lung
can accumulate in the chest cavity and around the lung. This condition, known
as a pneumothorax, makes it
difficult to reinflate the lung.
increases the risk of your infant developing persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). High
blood pressure in the vessels of the lungs restricts blood flow and makes it
difficult for your baby to breathe properly. PPHN is a rare, but
rare occasions, severe MAS may limit oxygen to the brain. This may cause
permanent brain damage.
What Is the Outlook for
Newborns with Meconium Aspiration?
who experience mild complications of MAS usually recover well. Infants who
develop brain damage or PPHN as a result of MAS may face lifelong health issues
that require medical support.
How Can Meconium Aspiration
detection is the best defense in preventing MAS. Fetal monitoring before
delivery can determine whether your baby is experiencing stress. Your doctor
can take steps to alleviate fetal distress during labor and reduce the
potential for MAS to develop. And, if your baby is experiencing stress, your
doctor will be prepared to evaluate and treat your baby right away if there are
signs of MAS.