Meconium Aspiration Syndrome: A Complete Guide

Meconium aspiration syndrome is a term given to the breathing issues that are faced by newborn babies. Meconium is referred to as a green-colored fecal matter which is produced in a fetus's intestine, before delivery. MAS happens when babies pass meconium into the amniotic fluid during labor or delivery and breathe or aspirate this fluid (a mixture of amniotic fluid and meconium) in their lungs. Although it can cause some complications in a baby's body, it is not life-threatening if treated at the right time by a medical professional.

Causes of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Meconium aspiration syndrome or MAS occurs when a baby experiences stress during or before delivery, which may be caused by a reduced supply of oxygen. The causes of this kind of stress include:

  • Labor that is longer than normal ( prolonged labor increases the time when the fetus is exposed to meconium)
  • Certain infections
  • Health conditions of the mother (hypertension and diabetes impose higher risk)
  • A pregnancy longer than the expected time (The fetus produces meconium during the end of pregnancy. So, if the time of pregnancy is extended, it is exposed to meconium for a longer period which may cause MAS).

Symptoms associated with MAS in infants

  • If you notice a change in breathing patterns in an infant, i.e., grunting during breathing or breathing heavily, it is a major symptom of MAS.
  • Cyanosis or the bluish colour of the skin may be a symptom of MAS.
  • Limpness observed in infants at birth.
  • Low blood pressure in infants.

If you observe any of the symptoms mentioned above in your infant, it is advised to see a doctor immediately.

The method of diagnosis includes the following methods to confirm MAS in infants:

  • Blood gas test to evaluate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
  • X-ray of the chest to see if the material has entered your newborn’s lungs.

Treatment of MAS

An affected infant will need immediate treatment to remove the meconium from the airway. After childbirth, a doctor immediately suction the nose, mouth, and throat and if the infant isn’t breathing well, fluid containing meconium from the windpipe is suctioned to a point where no meconium is seen anymore.

If the infant still isn’t able to breathe, the doctor will have to use a bag and mask to facilitate proper breathing.

After this emergency treatment, the infant is placed in a special care unit for some time if additional care is required. Additional treatment may be required to avoid further complications that may be caused by MAS. Five of these common treatments include:

  • Oxygen therapy (to enhance the oxygen levels in the body of the infant)
  • Radiant warmer (to normalize the body temperature of the infant)
  • Antibiotics like ampicillin (to treat and prevent infection)
  • Ventilator usage (to facilitate breathing)
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO (is used if the infant isn’t responding to other treatments well or has high blood pressure)

Medications that are used for the treatment of MAS include bronchodilators which help in opening the airways and antibiotics like Ampicillin for treating infections.

Meconium aspiration syndrome is one of the leading causes of illness in infants. However, it is curable and can be reversed with proper treatment by a doctor and most of the infants affected by it usually respond well to the treatments. The symptoms can be mild to severe in infants. Around 5-10 per cent of the newborns in the world are affected by this health condition, and, about 5 per cent of infants with meconium fluid get affected by the MAS. The special treatment which is required in some cases is also short-term and it goes away in 2-4 days.

Visit your doctor at the earliest if experiencing symptoms associated with MAS.

Request an appointment at Apollo Cradle, DELHI-NCR - Moti Nagar. Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

1. Is there any long-term fatal effect related to MAS?

No, there are no long-term illnesses associated with MAS. Only in some cases, a special treatment is required. Some complications might occur in some cases.

2. For how long are infants placed in a special care unit?

Infants are placed in a NICU in some special cases where they need extensive care and do not respond to other treatments. The time required here is around 3-4 days.

3. What are the factors that increase the risk of MAS?

Prolonged pregnancy or labor, cesarean birth, infections, and chronic health conditions of the mother may impose stress on the fetus which in turn increases the risk of MAS.

4. What type of doctor is qualified to treat meconium aspiration syndrome?

A Neonatologist or a Pediatrician can treat meconium aspiration syndrome in newborn babies.

5. How long does the meconium aspiration syndrome last in babies?

MAS lasts for only about 2-4 days in newborn babies. Most infants recover well from this syndrome.

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