Meconium Aspiration Syndrome: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Meconium aspiration syndrome occurs when a newborn inhales meconium, a viscous substance, immediately before or during the birthing process. This can lead to breathing troubles and other forms of respiratory distress. With early detection and prompt treatment, it is rare for meconium aspiration syndrome to result in long-term health conditions or complications.  

What is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Meconium aspiration syndrome occurs when meconium gets into a newborn’s lungs and causes breathing problems. Meconium is the gummy, sticky substance that eventually evolves into an infant’s first poop. If an infant passes meconium before they are born, they can inhale it, which can irritate or even obstruct their airway. It can also cause damage to their lung tissue, and block surfactant, which is the chemical compound that helps to open a newborn’s lungs. MAS can lead to respiratory issues, and, in very rare cases, can be life-threatening.

What is Meconium?

Meconium is a thick, tar-like substance comprised of mucus, cells, bile, hair, and other substances. Newborns usually pass meconium within 48 hours after they are born. In some instances, however, they can pass meconium during labor and delivery, which puts them in danger of aspirating this sticky substance.

What Makes Meconium Aspiration So Dangerous?

As previously mentioned, the texture of meconium is viscous and thick. sticky texture. In fact, the substance is so gummy that it is difficult to clean off a baby’s skin. Now, envision this substance inside of an infant’s lungs. It can adhere to the inside of the child’s airways, stop their lungs from inflating, and deprive them of oxygen. How Often Does Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Occur?Meconium makes its way into the amniotic fluid in roughly 12% to 20% of all births. When this happens, the amniotic fluid is referred to as meconium-stained amniotic fluid. This condition is most frequently seen in full-term or post-term babies. Between 2% and 10% of infants born through meconium-stained amniotic fluid will develop MAS.

Causes and Symptoms

What Causes Meconium Aspiration?

Although stress is the most common, meconium aspiration can occur for multiple reasons.  Some examples of common stressors are low oxygen levels and infections. Stress causes the infant to take big, deep breaths. These strong inhales can result in the inhalation of amniotic fluid into their tiny lungs. If that amniotic fluid has meconium in it, it can get into their lungs. The aspirated meconium then obstructs their airway, making it difficult for them to breathe.

What Are Some Common Signs of Meconium Aspiration?

Since inhaling meconium could potentially be hazardous, it is important to know what to look for. Some of the more common symptoms of meconium aspiration are:

  • Labored breathing
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Cyanosis (skin appears blue in color)
  • Hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
  • Limpness
  • Intercostal retractions caused by reduced air pressure in the chest
  • Grunting

What Are the Symptoms of Meconium-Stained Amniotic Fluid?

When the amniotic sac ruptures, amniotic fluid that contains meconium will be a brownish-green color. Newborns who are exposed to meconium-stained amniotic fluid might also be born with yellow nails and skin. Medical professionals are extensively trained in the warning signs of meconium aspiration.  

What Happens if an Infant Swallows Meconium?

Fortunately, ingesting meconium is harmless. Fetuses actually practice swallowing by “drinking” the amniotic fluid, so passing and consuming tiny bits of meconium is no cause for concern. It is only the inhalation of meconium that is dangerous.  

Testing and Diagnosis

How is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Diagnosed?

If a doctor or nurse detects meconium in the amniotic fluid, they will monitor for symptoms of aspiration once your baby is born. Remember that simply because your child discharges meconium before or during their birth does not automatically mean they are going to inhale it. Keeping a close eye on your child for any indications of distress is always the first step in diagnosing MAS. Doctors will probably do a chest X-ray and listen to your baby’s lungs. 

What Tests Can Diagnose Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

The most common test for diagnosing MAS is a chest X-ray to detect fluid in the infant’s lungs. Doctors might also use a blood gas test to check carbon dioxide and oxygen levels and verify the diagnosis.


Can Meconium Aspiration Be Prevented?

No, there is no way to prevent a newborn from aspirating meconium. The best thing a doctor can do is watch for signs of fetal distress and monitor the amniotic fluid. Early detection of aspiration is the best defense against serious cases of MAS. Some common risk factors are:

  • Post-term pregnancy
  • High blood pressure and/or diabetes
  • Difficult or prolonged labor
  • Fetal growth restriction 
  • Reduced oxygen to the fetus 

Outlook / Prognosis

Are There Any Complications Associated With Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?  

Long-term complications associated with meconium aspiration syndrome are extremely rare. Usually, the condition is treated and managed in just a few days. It is worth mentioning that babies with MAS are at a slightly elevated risk of:

  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Hypoxia
  • Pulmonary hypertension 
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)

Most infants who inhale meconium do not develop meconium aspiration syndrome. Of those who do, only a very small percentage will experience related health conditions. MAS is very treatable, especially when it is detected early on.Although meconium aspiration syndrome is a treatable condition in newborns, it can still be serious. As your baby is being born, your doctor will monitor the amniotic fluid for meconium. If your baby shows signs of distress, the meconium will be suctioned out of the throat and nose. When MAS is detected early and treated promptly, complications rarely occur. Most infants recover in just a few days and experience no long-term side effects.  If your child has been impacted by meconium aspiration syndrome and you have questions about filing a claim, speak to a Dallas birth injury lawyer from Rasansky Law Firm by calling (214) 617- 1886. We provide a free initial consultation and can advise you on the best way to proceed with your birth injury case.  



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Note: The information that was utilized in this post was gathered from the use of secondary sources. This information used has not been confirmed or independently verified. If you locate any information that is not correct, please contact our firm as soon as possible so that we can make the appropriate corrections. If you find any information that is false, we will remove or correct the post immediately after it is brought to our attention.

Disclaimer: As a valued member of the Dallas community, Rasansky Law Firm’s goal is to improve the safety of all residents in the great state of Texas. These posts should not be viewed as a solicitation for business and the information included herein should not be taken as medical or legal advice. The photos used in this post are not representative of the actual crash scene.

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