The birth of a child is a time of joy and hope. It is hard to imagine that the leading cause of illness and death for newborns is their inability to breathe when they first come into this world. This health problem occurs when the baby’s first stool or meconium passes into the amniotic fluid during labor and delivery. Unfortunately, meconium aspiration birth injuries occur in about five to ten percent of all births.
Detecting the Problem
Meconium is the stool passed by a newborn after birth before they begin feeding. Sometimes, the baby passes meconium while inside the womb. When the baby inhales or aspirates this fluid into the lungs it makes breathing very difficult. It is known as meconium aspiration syndrome. The meconium can block the infant's airways because the baby’s lungs swell up. Low-birth babies or those delivered past their term face the greatest risk. The birth and delivery team should also know that if the mother has diabetes or high blood pressure the risk factors are even greater. Here are some ways medical staff can look for meconium aspiration:
- Spot greenish or dark streaks in the amniotic fluid.
- Use a fetal monitor to keep an eye on a slow heart rate.
- A chest x-ray can show patchy areas on the lungs.
- A laryngoscope can check for meconium stains on the vocal cords
- Abnormal breathing including coarse sounds can be heard through a stethoscope.
- A blood gas analysis is to check for low oxygen and acidity in the blood.
The baby should be placed in intensive care. Antibiotics to fight infection and machines that keep the baby’s lungs inflated are often necessary....