What is meconium aspiration?
Meconium aspiration happens when a newborn breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic
fluid. Amniotic fluid is the liquid that surrounds the baby in the womb. Meconium
is the baby's first stool, or poop, which is sticky, thick, and dark green. It is
typically passed in the womb during early pregnancy and again in the first few days
What causes meconium aspiration?
Doctors don’t fully understand why babies release stool before they are born. It may
be a natural event or it may be caused by stress. Meconium aspiration only happens
in a small number of births.
Who is at risk for meconium aspiration?
Meconium aspiration is most common in babies who are born:
- Full-term (between 37 to 41 weeks) who are small for gestational age
- Post-term (after 42 weeks)
What are the symptoms of meconium aspiration?
Meconium gives the amniotic fluid a greenish color. This is called meconium staining.
If meconium has been in the amniotic fluid for a long time, your baby may have yellowed
skin and nails.
Your baby may also have symptoms such as:
- Rapid breathing
- Muscles of the ribs pulling in toward the chest when the child breathes
- Grunting sounds with breathing
- Bluish skin color
- An enlarged or bloated chest because of trapped air
The symptoms of meconium aspiration may look like other health conditions. Make sure
your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is meconium aspiration diagnosed?
Your child's healthcare provider will check the amniotic fluid for meconium at the
time of birth. Your healthcare provider may also recommend a chest X-ray to check
for problems in your baby’s lungs.
How is meconium aspiration treated?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is. Your baby’s healthcare provider will likely
recommend treatment for meconium aspiration based on:
- The amount and thickness of the meconium
- How long your baby was exposed to the meconium
- How well your baby can breathe
At birth, treatment may include:
- Suctioning of the upper airways, including the nose, mouth, and throat
- Suctioning of the lower airways through an endotracheal tube placed in the windpipe.
This is not recommended routinely unless it is needed.
- Oxygen given by face mask or mechanical ventilator
What are the complications of meconium aspiration?
When babies take their first breaths at delivery, bits of meconium can enter the airway.
They can then be inhaled deep into the lungs. The meconium may stick to the air sacs
(alveoli). This makes it hard for your baby to take in oxygen. It may also trap air
in the baby’s lungs.
It can also cause an infection such as pneumonia. Most babies generally get better
within a few days. But severe cases of meconium aspiration may lead to death in a
small number of babies.
Can meconium aspiration be prevented?
It’s important to know if your baby has been exposed to meconium to prevent severe
breathing problems. A procedure called amnioinfusion may be used during labor if you
have meconium-stained amniotic fluid. During this procedure, your healthcare provider
puts a small tube into your uterus through the vagina. Sterile fluid is put into the
womb through the tube to help thin out the thick meconium.
Key points about meconium aspiration
- Meconium aspiration happens when a newborn breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic
- Doctors don’t fully understand why babies release stool before they are born.
- It is most common in babies born full-term (between 37 to 41 weeks) who are small
for gestational age. It is also most common in babies who are born post-term (after
- Your healthcare provider will check the amniotic fluid for meconium at the time of
- Most babies generally get better within a few days.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.