Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Birth Injury Guide

In 2014, a mother lost her infant baby girl in an Illinois intensive care when the baby was 15 days old due to meconium aspiration syndrome, which caused fatal stress to the baby’s lungs and heart.

Meconium aspiration syndrome occurs when a baby releases his or her meconium (an infant’s first stool, which is usually passed soon after birth, before the baby begins taking in nutrients) into the protective amniotic fluid during labor or delivery, then breathes the contaminated fluid into the lungs.

Meconium in the amniotic fluid is not necessarily rare, as it occurs in approximately 8 to 15 percent of all births (Ref. 1), and the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid does not necessarily lead to meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS), because not all babies will breathe in the substance during the birth process.

But because meconium is thick and sticky, when aspirated, it can cause serious problems.

When the meconium enters the lungs, it can block the airways, cutting off oxygen and causing brain cells deprived of the nutrient to die. Not only can the presence of meconium make it difficult for the baby to breathe, it can also damage the lungs, potentially causing them collapse. Another risk factor is the development of pneumonitis, or inflammation of the lungs, which causes breathing difficulties.

In some cases, the condition can be fatal.

Causes of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

The syndrome typically occurs when babies are under stress due a decrease in the supply of blood, and therefore oxygen, usually due to problems with the placenta or the umbilical cord, which provide nutrients to the baby.

The stress factors cause them to release meconium earlier than normal, and because they are receiving limited amounts of oxygen, they may reflexively gasp, drawing the meconium into their lungs.

Other factors that can put stress on the baby, triggering the premature release of meconium, include:

  • Induced labor, because the traditional drug used to induce, Pitocin, can put stress on the baby, especially when it causes labor to occur too quickly.
  • A baby that is overdue, which can cause the meconium to be released naturally.
  • A prolonged or difficult delivery, most often caused by a breech birth or a baby that is too large to pass comfortably through the birth canal.
  • Hypoxia, which causes the baby to be deprived of adequate oxygen levels.
  • Maternal issues including cigarette smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Problems Associated with Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Not only can meconium block the baby’s airways, making breathing difficult, it can also cause a lung infection because of the toxins it contains. Meconium also hinders the ability of the lung compound pulmonary surfactant, which is responsible for helping the lungs expand and contract and for keeping airways dry.

When pulmonary surfactant can’t do its job, it can be more difficult for a newborn to move air, increasing the lack of oxygen that has likely already occurred, triggering the release of meconium as a response.

Symptoms of MAS

The presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid should be the first sign that meconium aspiration syndrome is a possibility, and steps should be taken immediately to avoid potential brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen.

Symptoms include:

  • Breathing problems including rapid or labored breathing or not breathing at all.
  • A blue tint to the lips or mouth, which indicate low levels of oxygen, a sign that meconium could be blocking airways. Low Apgar Scores
  • Low Apgar scores can indicate MAS. The test is a measurement of how the baby not only tolerated delivery but also how healthy it is after birth. Low scores are often the result of fluid in the airway.
  • Limpness and an inability to react to stimuli, a sign of respiratory distress.

Treatments for the condition can include suction to remove meconium, a respirator to boost oxygen levels and inflate the baby’s lungs, antibiotics to treat infections.

What Should I Do If My Baby Was Diagnosed with MAS?

If your baby suffered brain damage or other health problems because your doctor failed to properly diagnose either fetal distress during labor and delivery or meconium aspiration syndrome after delivery, it is important to contact an experienced birth injury attorney to determine what your options are regarding obtaining compensation to cover the costs of care for your child.

While some cases of meconium aspiration syndrome are unavoidable, in most cases, the condition can be prevented, and if your medical team’s actions or failure to act resulted in MAS, you may be in a position to file a claim against your provider.

An experienced attorney will review your child’s birth records to determine if your child’s vital signs were properly monitored during labor and delivery, if proper action was taken to quickly improve breathing conditions after meconium aspiration, or if something else could have been done differently to prevent your child’s condition.

If you believe medical negligence led to your child’s health problems, please call our offices today. Our team will work hard to obtain the compensation you deserve, and you won’t pay a fee until we secure a fair settlement in your case.