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Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) occurs when a newborn baby breathes
in a mixture of meconium (the newborn’s feces) and amniotic fluid
around the time of delivery.
When an infant inhales meconium, it can block the airway partially or completely.
MAS can occur before, during, or after labor and delivery. It occurs in
about 5% to 10% of births and it can lead to illness and death. MAS typically
occurs when a fetus is stressed during delivery, particularly if it is
past the due date. Symptoms that may indicate MAS include bluish skin
color; breathing problems (difficulty breathing, no breathing, or rapid
breathing); dark, greenish staining or streaking of the amniotic fluid;
obvious presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid; or limpness in the
infant at birth.
Diagnosis & Care
The most accurate way to determine whether or not an infant has MAS is
by using a laryngoscope to determine if there is meconium staining on
the newborn’s vocal cords. Prior to delivery, the fetal monitor
may show a slow heart rate, which can be an indicator of the illness,
as can abnormal, coarse, crackly breathing heard through a stethoscope
after delivery. A chest x-ray may show patchy or streaky areas on the
infant’s lungs. If the infant needs assistance breathing, they may
have a low Apgar score, and a blood gas analysis will likely show low
blood pH, decreased oxygen, and an increased presence of carbon dioxide.
The severity of MAS greatly depends on how much meconium was inhaled by
the infant; typically, more inhaled meconium increases seriousness. In
most cases of MAS, the prognosis is excellent and there are no lasting
effects. In severe cases, breathing problems may persist for up to four
days. If an infant has a prolonged lack of oxygen in utero, the chances
of permanent brain damage increases. Rare but possible complications include
aspiration pneumonia, collapsed lung, and persistent pulmonary hypertension.
Caring for a child who suffered from meconium aspiration syndrome that
resulted in brain damage can be devastating and the long-term costs can
be substantial. If your infant’s MAS was the result of a doctor
or caregiver’s negligence or failure to act, you may be eligible
for compensation for neonatal care, long-term rehabilitation and medical
expenses, and pain and suffering.
Contact our medical malpractice lawyers for a free evaluation of your claim.
The individual who is delivering the infant should suction the newborn’s
mouth as soon as the head can be seen during delivery. If the infant is
not active and crying immediately following delivery, the physician will
typically place a tube in the trachea and apply suction as the endotracheal
tube is withdrawn. This process will generally be repeated until there
is no sign of meconium in the contents. Other treatment options include
dispensing antibiotics to treat infection, use of a breathing machine
to keep the lungs inflated, use of a warmer to maintain normal body temperature,
as well as tapping on the chest to loosen any secretions.
Books & Resources
For more information on meconium aspiration syndrome, the following resources