Meconium Aspiration Complications

Meconium is the first of many not-so-delightful “presents” you’ll get from your newborn. While its appearance is alarming, it’s harmless. Except when it’s released too early, in utero. A newborn can develop meconium aspiration complications from inhaling this dark, sticky substance. While uncommon, these complications are often serious. 

Lawsuit for meconium aspiration complications.

What is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

Meconium is a baby’s first stool. It’s made up of amniotic fluid, bile, mucus, shed skin cells, and lanugo (fine hair from a baby’s body). Under normal circumstances, babies pass meconium a few hours to a few days after birth. 

But certain factors can cause a baby to pass meconium while still in the womb. The meconium can contaminate the amniotic fluid that the baby breathes in and swallows.

Swallowing meconium won’t hurt the baby. But breathing it in, called aspiration, is harmful. Meconium can block a baby’s airways and cause issues with breathing. It can cause infection and other problems in the lungs. When that happens, it’s called meconium aspiration syndrome, or MAS. 

Not all babies with meconium in the amniotic fluid develop MAS. But about 5% do, and meconium aspiration complications can be serious. MAS is a major cause of severe injuries and death in infants. 

What Causes MAS?

Doctors may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause of MAS every time. Many factors come into play, such as:

  • Fetal distress. Stress or oxygen deprivation in labor can trigger the baby to pass meconium into the amniotic fluid. Distress can also cause the baby to “gasp” while in the womb. They then inhale amniotic fluid containing meconium.  
  • Post-term pregnancy. Babies born after their due date may be more likely to pass meconium in utero.
  • Maternal factors. Certain maternal conditions or factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking during pregnancy, and drug use, can increase the risk of meconium passage.
  • Intrauterine infections. Infections affecting the baby while in the womb can lead to stress and trigger meconium passage.
  • Fetal gastrointestinal maturation. As the fetal gastrointestinal system matures, it becomes capable of passing meconium. This process can sometimes be accelerated by stress.

Can a Baby Die from Swallowing Meconium?

A baby won’t die from swallowing meconium. They may, however, die from inhaling it. 

When inhaled, meconium blocks the airways and air sacs in the lungs. From there it can cause respiratory distress, inflammation, and breathing difficulties. 

In severe cases, this can lead to serious health complications, including pneumonia, lung inflammation, and even death.

Baby in hospital due to meconium aspiration complications.

Are there any long-term effects of swallowing meconium?

Swallowing meconium won’t have negative effects on a baby, as long it enters the digestive system and not the lungs. Meconium is sterile, and it won’t hurt them. 

Signs of Meconium Passage and Aspiration

Signs of meconium passage and potential aspiration while still in the womb include:

  • Meconium-stained amniotic fluid
  • Abnormal fetal heart rate patterns
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Changes in amniotic fluid color (greenish or brownish)

After birth, if a baby has aspirated meconium, they might have any of these symptoms:

  • Abnormal breathing sounds, like grunting 
  • Bluish skin color (cyanosis)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Retractions (visible pulling in of the chest during breathing)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Lethargy or difficulty staying awake
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Crackling sounds in the lungs (rales)
  • Chest X-ray showing abnormal lung appearance
  • Difficulty establishing regular breathing rhythm

Meconium Aspiration Complications

The severity of meconium aspiration complications can vary. Not all babies with meconium aspiration will experience all of the issues below. As with any medical emergency, the outcome will always be better with early detection and proper care.

Short-term Effects of Meconium Aspiration

Long-term Effects of Meconium Aspiration 

Father holds his newborn baby close to his chest.

Improper Management of MAS is Malpractice

Failing to properly manage a medical emergency during delivery is negligence. Negligence can cause birth injuries. And that constitutes medical malpractice.  

Meconium aspiration is a serious medical emergency. Proper management of MAS may involve:

  • Close monitoring of babies who are at risk of swallowing meconium.
  • Detecting MAS on time.
  • Treating meconium aspiration complications as soon as they appear.
  • Performing an emergency delivery when the baby is at risk of severe harm or death.
  • Suctioning the baby’s airways and administering oxygen.
  • Admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for close monitoring and care.

If your baby passed away due to improper management of MAS, or developed meconium aspiration complications, we can help. Contact us to discuss how you may be able to sue for negligence and get compensated for your child’s injuries.