Meconium Aspiration: How Serious It Is and How to Treat It


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Watching your baby struggle to breathe is scary and overwhelming.

If your newborn is suffering from meconium aspiration, you need to know what treatments he or she should receive and if it could be caused by medical malpractice or negligence.

What is Meconium Aspiration?

Meconium aspiration (the act of inhaling this waste) can occur before, during, or after delivery, when the baby’s waste is stuck in his or her airway. A baby’s first inhalation often includes a mixture of both meconium and amniotic fluid.

The problem is if a baby inhales meconium, it can block his or her airway. The trapped meconium then irritates the baby’s airway and makes breathing difficult.

If the baby appears to be having trouble breathing, a doctor should order further tests. The doctors should order a blood gas analysis to see if the baby is receiving enough oxygen or a chest X-ray to determine if there are streaks on the lungs. The doctor can also listen to the baby’s lungs, as certain breathing sounds are common in newborns with meconium aspiration.

If the doctor suspects that the newborn has inhaled meconium, treatment should begin immediately.

What are the Treatment Options for Meconium Aspiration?

Most cases of MAS can be resolved by removing the meconium immediately after birth. However, in cases where aspiration is severe, mechanical ventilation may be required.

If the doctor suspects that the newborn has inhaled some meconium, the first course of action is usually to take a “wait-and-watch” approach. This approach is only taken if the baby has a strong heartbeat and is alert and active.

If the newborn has inhaled meconium but isn't active, has a low heart rate, appears limp and listless, or has poor muscle tone, the first and most pressing concern is clearing the infant's airway.

This can be done by inserting a laryngoscope into the baby’s trachea to remove the meconium blockage or by using an endotracheal tube – a plastic tube that goes into the newborn’s windpipe through the nose or mouth.

As the endotracheal tube is slowly removed, it applies suction to the trachea and lower airway. This is repeated until the physician is certain that all the meconium has been removed, by looking at each batch of suctioned fluid for the presence of meconium.

Most babies who have meconium removed will begin to show improvement after a few days or weeks. Though this depends on the severity of the condition, how much meconium was inhaled, and if all of it was removed.

In more severe cases of MAS, infants may be sent to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for further tests and evaluation.

In the NICU, your child may undergo the following treatments:

  • Nitric oxide inhalation
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Use of surfactant – a natural substance that contributes to the infant’s ability to properly expand his or her lungs
  • Antibiotics


What are the Long-Term Complications of Meconium Aspiration?

Babies with severe cases of MAS can go home while still on oxygen. Wheezing breaths and lung infections are more likely to occur during their first year of life.

Permanent lung damage is rarely reported in cases of meconium aspiration. However, studies suggest that infants with the condition are at a higher risk for developing reactive airway disease – wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath – that’s caused by the narrowing of the airways.

Infants that are diagnosed with meconium aspiration should be screened at the hospital for neurological damage and hearing problems.

Can Meconium Aspiration Be Fatal?

Although very rare, severe cases of meconium aspiration can be fatal. However, thanks to newer treatments like suctioning, deaths from MAS have greatly decreased.

Can Meconium Aspiration Cause Brain Damage?

Whenever the oxygen supply is cut off or severely limited, brain damage will be a possibility. In a situation where oxygen supply is cut off completely, it takes several minutes for any kind of brain damage to occur.

With meconium aspiration – in the majority of cases – oxygen supply is only limited and rarely cut off entirely. As long as the physician and birthing team spot the signs of MAS and respond quickly with treatments, brain damage shouldn’t be a concern.

How can Meconium Aspiration be Prevented?

The first signs of MAS usually occur after the mother’s water breaks. If there are dark green streaks in the amniotic fluid, this is a warning sign of meconium aspiration. If this is the case, the doctor should be notified immediately.

However, there are other ways of preventing MAS, including:

  • Amnioinfusion – flushing the meconium out of the amniotic sac with a saline solution before the baby can inhale it
  • Fetal monitor – during labor, the doctor can watch the baby's heart rate in case there are any signs of fetal distress


What Should I Do If I Suspect Medical Malpractice Caused My Newborn’s Meconium Aspiration?

If you suspect that medical malpractice contributed to your newborn’s case of meconium aspiration, the experienced lawyers at Ross Feller Casey can help.

Over the past five years alone, Ross Feller Casey has recovered $1 billion for its clients and resolved more major multimillion-dollar birth injury lawsuits than any other firm in Pennsylvania.

Ross Feller Casey has a team of leading Ivy League trained physicians and doctor-lawyers right on staff, making the firm uniquely qualified to handle all types of birth injury cases, including those involving meconium aspiration. Contact us today for your free case evaluation.

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