Meconium aspiration syndrome: What every parent needs to know

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is a life-threatening condition that can occur in newborns. It can occur when a newborn inhales meconium (dark green feces).

Meconium can cause inflammation and damage to the lungs, which can lead to difficulty breathing and even death. In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms of MAS, how it is treated, and what you can do to prevent it from happening to your child.

What is meconium aspiration syndrome?

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is a serious respiratory disorder that can occur when a newborn inhales meconium, the sticky, greenish-black substance that accumulates in the intestine during pregnancy. When meconium gets into the mother’s amniotic fluid, it’s called meconium staining, and the amniotic fluid may have a greenish color or streaks of green.

Meconium aspiration syndrome occurs in approximately 2% of deliveries.

Inhaling meconium can obstruct the airways and lungs, leading to difficulty breathing. MAS can be life-threatening, but early diagnosis and treatment can improve the outcome.

What are the symptoms of MAS?

Symptoms of MAS can vary depending on how much meconium and amniotic fluid the baby has inhaled.

Some babies may have only mild respiratory distress, while others may develop severe pneumonia or even respiratory failure.

The most common symptoms of MAS include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Grunting with each breath
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin)
  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Pulmonary hypertension

If your baby is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

What causes MAS?

MAS occurs when a baby inhales meconium while still in the womb. It usually occurs in term or post-term babies who are small for gestational age (IUGR).

This can happen if the baby is stressed during labor and delivery or due to placental insufficiency, which can cause the meconium to be released into the amniotic fluid.

Babies who are born prematurely (low birth weight babies) or with certain medical conditions ( such as heart defects) are at increased risk for MAS.

Risk factors

Risk factors for meconium aspiration include:

How is MAS diagnosed?

MAS is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms the baby is experiencing. A physical examination, along with a chest X-ray and blood tests, can help to confirm the diagnosis.

How is MAS treated?

The treatment for MAS will depend on how severe the condition is.

Mild cases may only require supplemental oxygen, while more severe cases may require mechanical ventilation. The baby may be placed in the neonatal intensive care unit. Other treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Breathing machine to keep the lungs inflated
  • Use of a warmer to maintain body temperature
  • Tapping on the chest to loosen secretions
  • Intubation (a tube is inserted into the baby’s lungs to help with breathing)
  • In some cases, a surgery called thoracotomy (incision into the chest) may be necessary

A baby with severe MAS may need more treatment, such as:

  • Surfactant to help open lungs.
  • Inhaled nitric oxide. This gas is added to oxygen to open blood vessels and improve oxygen delivery.
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The ECMO machine, using a pump that works like the heart, pumps blood from the body through an artificial lung. Like a normal lung, it adds oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide. Then the machine sends the blood back to the child. Most babies with MAS get better within a few days.

The outlook for babies with MAS is generally good, especially if it is diagnosed and treated early. Most babies will recover without any long-term problems. However, some babies may have persistent lung problems or other health issues. If your baby is diagnosed with MAS, be sure to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. With proper treatment, most babies with MAS will make a full recovery.

What are the risks of MAS?

The most common complication of MAS is respiratory failure. This can occur when the lungs are so full of fluid that they are unable to function properly.

Other complications of MAS include:

  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (a condition that results in the abnormal development of the lungs)
  • Neurological impairment
  • Cerebral palsy

What can be done to prevent MAS?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent MAS, but there are some things that can be done to lower the risk:

  • Make sure that all prenatal care appointments are kept
  • Eat a healthy diet and take prenatal vitamins
  • Do not smoke or use drugs
  • Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Get early and regular prenatal care
  • If you have diabetes or hypertension, make sure it is well controlled

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have during pregnancy. MAS is a serious condition, but it is also treatable. With early diagnosis and treatment, most babies with MAS will make a full recovery.

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