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Could your newborn suffer meconium aspiration syndrome?

If you are like most women, you feel the most anxiety about the birth of your child and not the pregnancy itself. You may feel this way because of the stories you hear from other mothers regarding their birthing experiences. Unless you have already had a child, there is no way for you to truly know and understand what it's like to give birth.

How do contractions feel? Will the baby fit through the birth canal? Just how much is it going to hurt? You may wonder about these issues, and then your doctor gives you warnings as well regarding how labor and delivery can go wrong -- just to prepare you, of course. Your doctor may mention many things, but may not bring up meconium aspiration syndrome since it doesn't make the top 10 of potential issues.

What is meconium aspiration syndrome?

Just because other issues may concern your obstetrician doesn't mean that your baby may not suffer from meconium aspiration syndrome. Prior to birth, babies produce a dark green fecal matter called meconium. A baby's first stools of life are composed of this material. 

If your baby is under stress during labor, he or she may pass a stool in utero. The following circumstances could cause stress to your baby:

  • Long or difficult labor
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy that goes beyond 40 weeks
  • Mother's health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure, among other things

If this happens, it mixes with the amniotic fluid, and your unborn child breathes it in. This is meconium aspiration syndrome. MAS doesn't ordinarily threaten a baby's life, but it could under certain circumstances.

What do doctors look for after birth?

Upon birth, your baby may stop breathing, grunt while breathing or breathe rapidly. In addition, doctors will look for the following:

  • Limpness
  • Bluish skin color
  • Low blood pressure

If your doctor diagnoses your baby with MAS, it may be enough for your baby's mouth, nose and throat to undergo suction. Placing a tube in your newborn's windpipe may be necessary. Once the emergency has passed, doctors may employ one or more of the following treatments:

  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Radiant warmer
  • Ventilator

If these treatments fail, doctors may use extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which does the work of the lungs and heart while the organs heal.

What long-term effects could your baby suffer?

For mild cases of MAS, babies often do not suffer lifelong issues. However, a significant lack of oxygen could lead to brain damage. If the lung overinflates, it could rupture, and it may not be an easy task to re-inflate and heal it.

At many points during your labor and delivery, your doctor should watch for signs that MAS could occur. Failing to monitor you and the baby adequately, failure to recognize the signs of MAS or failure to quickly and appropriately treat the condition could cause permanent, and possibly debilitating, injuries to your child. If that happens, you may be able to pursue compensation you may need for your child's care in the future through the filing of a medical malpractice claim.

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