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What is meconium aspiration?

If an infant’s birth takes place after the expected due date, it increases the risk for meconium aspiration, a leading cause of severe illness in newborns that can result in death.

Meconium is a medical term for an infant’s first feces. It usually does not pass until after the baby’s birth, but sometimes it passes early and mixes with the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus in the uterus. Around the time of delivery, the infant may inhale the mixture.

How common is meconium aspiration?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, meconium aspiration affects approximately 5% to 10% of all births.

What are the signs of meconium aspiration?

The first sign may be the identifiable presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid, causing it to become streaked or stained with green where it would otherwise be clear. If the infant has inhaled meconium, he or she may be limp or have breathing problems. Due to a lack of oxygen, the skin may have a bluish tone.

Meconium aspiration happens in the setting of distress, which may cause a slow heart rate on the fetal monitor. Breath sounds may be crackly, coarse or otherwise abnormal.

What is the treatment for meconium aspiration?

During delivery, suctioning of the baby’s mouth should take place as soon as the head is visible. Following birth, the newborn may not be able to maintain body temperature independently and may require a warmer. The lungs may not be able to inflate on their own, so the baby may require a breathing machine. Meconium aspiration carries a risk of infection, so the infant may require antibiotics.

Possible complications of meconium aspiration include brain damage. The more severe the aspiration, the more guarded the prognosis.