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Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Meconium is the word used to describe the newborn's early feces, before he or she is ready to digest breast milk or formula. When a newborn has meconium aspiration syndrome, he or she breathes a combination of meconium and amniotic fluid into the lungs near the time of delivery. It can be a major cause of serious illness and death in an infant.

Causes of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Sometimes when a baby fails to get enough blood and oxygen, he or she becomes stressed and may pass meconium while still in the mother's uterus. If the meconium mixes into the surrounding amniotic fluid, the newborn may breathe some of the meconium into its lungs. It is possible that the meconium can obstruct the airways of the baby right after birth.

When this condition occurs, it may lead to the child having difficulty breathing after it is born. After birth, the baby's lungs may swell or become inflamed.

Possible Reasons for Stress Leading to Meconium Aspiration

  • Diabetes in the mother
  • Difficult delivery
  • Going past the baby's due date
  • High maternal blood pressure
  • Long labor
  • Too little oxygen going to the fetus

Symptoms of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Newborn symptoms can include:

  • Bluish tinge to the newborn's skin (indicating a lack of oxygen in the blood)
  • Breathing that is too fast
  • No breathing
  • Trouble breathing

Tests That Can Indicate the Syndrome

  • Fetal monitor may show a slow heart rate before birth
  • Apgar score may be low. Apgar, an acronym, is a quick, simple test to evaluate the status of the newborn. (The letters stand for Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Response). The score is named after Virginia Apgar, an anesthesiologist who developed the test to find what effect anesthesia had on the newborn.
  • Newborn may need help with breathing or regulation of its heart rate
  • Abnormal breath sounds that can be detected with a stethoscope
  • A blood test can show low blood pH (acidity), too little oxygen or too much carbon dioxide
  • Patches or streaks showing up on the lungs in an x-ray

Potential Complications

Complications that may result from meconium aspiration syndrome include:

  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Brain damage due to lack of oxygen
  • Problems breathing that can linger for a number of days
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • PPHN (persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn). This occurs when the infant cannot take enough blood into the lungs to provide oxygen to the body's tissues.

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