Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (antenatal period)

Meconium aspiration syndrome is a condition which describes respiratory distress in a newborn who has breathed (aspirated) meconium into the lungs at or before the time of birth. Affected newborns have bluish skin, breathe rapidly, and grunt when attempting to exhale. The diagnosis is based on the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid at birth, respiratory distress in the newborn, and an abnormal chest x-ray.

What Causes Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

Babies that are under stress as a result of being without enough blood or oxygen are sometimes susceptible to passing meconium. Fetal distress may occur during a difficult delivery, causing intestinal contractions, and relaxation of the infant’s anal sphincter. This may lead to meconium passing into the amniotic fluid. Umbilical cord complications, as well as an overdue birth may also lead to fetal distress.

Complications Caused by Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Once the amniotic fluid has become contaminated with meconium, there is a danger that the material will be sucked deep into the lungs, irritating and inflaming the baby’s airways. This meconium may prevent air in the lungs from being expelled, or block air from reaching the baby’s lungs. Breathing complications may persist for several days, leading to pulmonary hypertension, where there is insufficient blood in the lungs to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. These conditions can lead to long term health issues for the infant.

How is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Treated?

Once is has been determined that the infant has inhaled meconium, treatment must be administered immediately. The presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid is evidenced by its greenish or yellowish color. The baby may have a slow heartbeat, or low Apgar score, which are signs that the health care professional should administer appropriate care due to the seriousness of the infant’s condition. The substance may be removed by inserting a laryngoscope into the baby’s trachea. Antibiotics may also be recommended for treatment, as well as the use of a breathing machine.

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