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Birth Injury

What Is Meconium Aspiration?

February 11, 2021

Meconium aspiration syndrome is a lung problem that occurs when a newborn baby inhales meconium and amniotic fluid which injure the lungs. Meconium is the baby’s first stool. Meconium aspiration occurs in about 5-10% of births. It is one of the leading causes of serious illnesses and death in newborns.


Babies can pass meconium while inside the uterus because they are stressed by decreased oxygen supply or infections. When meconium gets into the surrounding amniotic fluid, the baby may swallow it and it can go into the lungs.

Risk factors that may make babies pass meconium before birth include long labor or difficult delivery, overdue pregnancy, high blood pressure or diabetes in the mother, drug use during pregnancy, and poor fetal growth.


Meconium may cause breathing problems because it can clog or irritate the airways, injure the lung tissue, and block surfactant, which allows babies to breathe in air after birth by helping open the lungs.

Severe cases of meconium aspiration can lead to infection including pneumonia, brain damage, developmental abnormalities, and death.


During and after delivery symptoms of meconium aspiration syndrome can include:

  • Discoloration of skin – bluish or greenish
  • Breathing problems
  • Low heart rate
  • Low Apgar score
  • Limpness in baby


During delivery, the mouth can be suctioned if doctors are aware of meconium being present in the amniotic fluid. The baby may be sent to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or special care nursery. He or she may be treated with specialized respiratory care.

Can Meconium Aspiration Be Prevented?

The best defense against meconium aspiration is early detection. Monitoring the baby before and during delivery can help determine if there is fetal distress. The doctor can take steps to reduce the chances of meconium aspiration syndrome developing. If it does develop, early treatment can help prevent any further complications.

Chicago birth injury attorneys see cases of meconium aspiration caused by medical errors. If a parent suspects monitoring of the baby was done improperly or the baby develops problems due to meconium aspiration syndrome, he or she can contact a birth injury attorney. An attorney can help determine if a child’s meconium aspiration complications are connected to a medical error.

About The Author

Photo of Jeffrey  Goldberg
Attorney Jeffrey M. Goldberg has spent his entire professional career handling cases involving birth injury, medical malpractice, product liability and related accidents.