Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is a serious, life-threatening condition that occurs in around 2% to 5% of all births. Although the mortality rates of infants with MAS have vastly improved over the past few decades, infants are still at a heightened risk of lifelong medical complications, especially if medical treatment doesn’t start immediately.

What is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

MAS is a medical condition that occurs when an infant breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid. This mixture floods the lungs at the time of delivery, and may prevent the infant from receiving an adequate amount of oxygen.

What Causes Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

While the mother is still pregnant, the fetus may feel stressed out if there are problems with the health of the placenta. If this occurs, the infant may defecate and in turn breath in meconium while still in the uterus. The baby is also likely to breathe it in during delivery, which may block the infant’s airways just after delivery.

Risk factors that may contribute to fetal stress include:

  • Maternal diabetes
  • Maternal high blood pressure
  • A placenta that ages past the infant’s due date
  • Lack of sufficient oxygen to the infant while in utero

What are the Symptoms of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

One of the most obvious symptoms of MAS is a bluish appearance shortly after birth. In addition, babies may experience:

  • Lack of breathing, rapid breathing, or no breathing at all
  • Limpness
  • Slow heart rate shortly before birth
  • Low Apgar score

How Can Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Be Treated?

If an infant comes out breathing and crying normally, no treatment is usually necessary, but if there are crackling noises while breathing and lack of activity shortly after delivery,  physicians generally insert a a tube into the infant’s airways to clear out the meconium and amniotic fluid.

If the baby isn’t breathing, a face mask is usually used to deliver oxygen and inflate the lungs.

Additional treatments may include antibiotics to treat infections, a radiant warmer to help keep body temperature normal, and a ventilator to keep the infant’s lungs from collapsing.

How is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome a Birth Injury?

One way of preventing MAS is for the doctor to monitor the baby’s health and the health of the placenta before delivery. If the baby is born with what appears to be MAS, it is the responsibility of the medical professionals to get the infant immediate medical treatment.

If left without oxygen for too long, the baby’s brain can experience oxygen deprivation that can cause additional complications such as stroke, brain damage, HIE, and cerebral palsy (CP).

Are There Any Long-Term Effects of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

In most cases, there are no long-term effects for an infant who is treated appropriately. However, as aforementioned, the baby may have brain damage and other lifelong medical problems if left without oxygen for too long.

In some rare instance, an infant may develop permanent lung damage and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN).