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Meconium Aspiration Long-Term Effects and Treatment

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jun 24, 2021

Meconium Aspiration Long-Term Effects and Treatment

Meconium aspiration is an uncommon newborn condition that can lead to serious illness. Newborn babies are very vulnerable to infections. This is especially true for premature or underdeveloped babies. Learn more about meconium aspiration long-term effects, risk factors, and treatment options.

About Meconium Aspiration

meconium aspiration long-term effects

Before talking about the effects and treatment options, we need to discuss the condition itself. Meconium is a viscous fluid that is a mixture of an infant’s waste products and amniotic fluid. Research has shown that meconium also contains fine hair (lanugo), bile, and intestinal fluids.

Meconium aspiration occurs when the meconium enters the mouth and lungs of a newborn. Because of its thickness, meconium may clog the airways which reduces oxygen intake. It could also stick to the air sacs of the lungs. This is what is known as Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS). Signs and symptoms include cyanosis, low oxygen saturation, low APGAR score, and a greenish stain or streaking in the amniotic fluid.

Risk Factors for Meconium Aspiration

Although MAS is fairly uncommon, occurring in approximately 10% of births, certain infants are at greater risk. Two major factors that contribute to MAS are fetal stress and being born past their due date. Normally, meconium is excreted after a baby is born and is known as their “first poop.” However, in post-term or late deliveries, the baby may pass meconium while still in the womb.

On the other hand, there are also risk factors that can affect a mother and lead to MAS in her newborn. Again, stress during pregnancy is one factor. Other factors include high blood pressure or eclampsia, and gestational diabetes.

Long-Term Effects of Meconium Aspiration

Initially, the effects of MAS are mainly cyanosis, abnormal breathing, and decreased heart rate. The factors that contribute to MAS also have their own impacts on a newborn’s health, namely an increased risk of infection, poor feeding, and inability to thrive.

While treatment is available and highly effective, there are some possible long-term effects of meconium aspiration. Because meconium contains bile, it contains enzymes that break down protein. When meconium enters the nose and mouth, the enzymes damage the throat and lung tissues. Additionally, the chemicals within meconium can irritate the tissue and cause inflammation which prevents normal breathing.

Long-term effects of oxygen deprivation include:

  • Need for oxygen supplementation
  • Asthma or asthma-like conditions
  • Poor growth and development
  • Increased risk of seizures
  • Brain damage and cerebral palsy
  • Increased risk of pneumonia and other infections

Treatment and Prevention

Fortunately, medical treatment of meconium aspiration has come a long way over the years. The key to successfully treating MAS is to spot meconium aspiration as soon as possible. If a mother is past her expected delivery date or notices green or dark staining when her water breaks, these may indicate a problem.

For post-term pregnancies, a doctor might recommend inducing labor to prevent the possibility of meconium aspiration. This means that the pregnant woman will be given medications that will stimulate the uterus to contract and signal to the body that it’s time to deliver the baby.

Treatment of meconium aspiration is mainly supportive. Traditionally, the meconium is suctioned out but this is not always necessary. Breathing support and oxygen delivery are important. Infants may be placed on a respirator or put on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to help them breathe. Depending on the severity or other conditions, the baby may also be given surfactants and antibiotics. Thankfully, most infants are able to recover without additional treatment and long-term effects.

Key Takeaways

In summary, meconium aspiration is an uncommon but serious condition in newborns. While it is treatable, meconium aspiration long-term effects can be devastating. That is why it is important for pregnant women to regularly communicate and share their concerns with an OB-GYN doctor throughout the pregnancy.

Learn more about Pregnancy Complications here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Jun 24, 2021

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