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Causes of Meconium Aspiration

Meconium is a dark green substance that makes up an infant’s first bowel movement. Materials inside the uterus are ingested by the fetus which makes up for the fetus’s meconium. Most infants have their first bowel movement after birth. Occasionally a fetus can pass meconium in uteri. Aspiration of meconium and amniotic fluid can happen during any point of the labor and delivery. The fetus could aspirate this mixture of fluids while they are still in the uterus, coming through the birth canal, or when they take their first breathe after birth.

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This is referred to as Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS. ) When the baby aspirates a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid it becomes trapped in their airways making it difficult for the baby to breath. “MAS can affect the baby’s breathing in a number of ways, including chemical irritation to the lung tissue, airway obstruction by a meconium plug, infection, and the inactivation of surfactant by the meconium” (Spear, 2008. ) Six to twenty five percent of children born have amniotic fluid that is stained from meconium but only 2%-36% of those babies inhale the meconium (Spear, 2008. Although meconium aspiration can be a serious condition, most cases are not severe. There are several causes for Meconium Aspiration Syndrome, most of which are unpreventable. These causes include, but are not limited to, fetal stress, an advanced gestational age, and smoking. Fetal stress is the most common cause for Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. Fetal stress can be caused from breathing problems, umbilical cord prolapse or having a long difficult labor. When breathing problems occur, the fetus becomes hypoxic which speeds up the fetus’s intestinal tract and relaxes the fetus’s bowels causing the release of meconium.

Umbilical cord prolapse happens when the mother’s umbilical cord drops through the dilated cervix ahead of the baby. Umbilical cord prolapse can occur for several reasons including the fetus in the breech position or the umbilical cord being unusually long. When this happens the cord becomes pressed up against the fetus’s body and can become wrapped around the fetus’s neck. (“Cleveland Clinic”) Forty weeks is the normal gestation period for a female. Any baby that has not been born by forty two weeks is considered overdue. The placenta starts to deteriorate after 38 weeks or so, which means an overdue baby may not get enough oxygen” (“Baby Due Date,” 2010. ) If the fetus is experiencing hypoxia it will speed up the intestinal tract causing meconium to be released. Smoking is another cause of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. Blood is pumped throughout the body delivering oxygen to all parts of the body. With every puff of a cigarette the vessels that provide oxygenated blood constrict and do not supply an adequate amount of oxygen where it is needed.

If a mother smokes while she is pregnant with a child it decreases the amount of oxygen that the mother and the baby are receiving. Babies who are at risk of having Meconium Aspiration Syndrome are suctioned as soon as they are delivered in an attempt to remove all the fluid from their airways. If there is meconium present when the mother’s water breaks than doctors try to suction the newborn baby before he or she has had a chance to take their first breathe. The severity of the MAS depends on how much meconium was actually inhaled by the baby.

Most babies that are born with the presence of meconium are monitored for 24 to 48 hours after birth. Even in some of the most severe cases, symptoms from MAS only take a couple of weeks to clear up. References Cleveland clinic. (n. d. ). Retrieved from http://my. clevelandclinic. org/healthy_living/pregnancy/hic_umbilical_cord_prolapse. aspx Spear, M. (2008, June). Meconium aspiration. Retrieved from http://kidshealth. org/parent/medical/lungs/meconium. html Baby due date. (2010, March). Retrieved from http://www. betterhealth. vic. gov. au/bhcv2/bhcarticles. nsf/pages/Baby_due_date


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