In approximately 15% of births, the baby may pass a meconium stool before or during labour. This is more common for babies who are overdue. Normally, this is not a problem but in some cases the baby may swallow some of the meconium as it becomes mixed with the amniotic fluid. Sometimes the meconium can then be breathed into the airways of the baby which means that when baby takes its first few breaths after birth, some of these meconium particles are inhaled or aspirated into the lungs.
Meconium aspiration is a concern for your doctor or midwife: if meconium is noticed in your waters, extra medical staff may be called into the delivery room to ensure the safety of your baby. There is no need to worry at this moment and your midwife will explain what is happening and what you should do to aid the delivery of your baby. The meconium particles can block your baby’s small airways and can also prevent the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide whilst trying to breathe.
A baby who has meconium aspiration may require resuscitation at the birth or may develop respiratory distress within minutes or possibly up to a few hours after the birth and will therefore require extra monitoring, possibly within a special care baby unit.
Although your baby will be closely monitored, it is important to watch for any of the following symptoms of meconium aspiration:
- Grunting sounds whilst breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Cyanosis (turning blue)
- Retractions (pulling in) of the chest wall
- Over distended chest
Your baby’s doctor should be informed if you notice any of these symptoms and he will be able to offer a diagnosis as to whether your child has meconium aspiration. Your baby may require an x-ray to correctly diagnose meconium aspiration.
The treatment for meconium aspiration will depend on the seriousness of the aspiration and your doctor will explain the options available to you.
Most babies with meconium aspiration fully recover and have a normal healthy life although a very small number do continue to have breathing problems later in life and it is possible for a baby to die with severe meconium aspiration.
If you have any concerns or worries about meconium aspiration you should speak to your midwife or doctor.
by Jenny, mum to William and James