Understanding the Connection between Meconium and Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy
Meconium is a medical term that refers to a newborn’s first bowel movement. In most infant deliveries, the baby experiences their initial bowel movement immediately after birth. However, when it occurs while the baby is in the womb, the child can breathe in the stool and amniotic fluid into its lungs, causing meconium aspiration.
The child’s meconium is usually thick, especially when mixed with amniotic fluid. Intake of meconium can block the airways of the fetus, causing aspiration deep into the lungs. This event typically occurs to newborns who are at term within the final stages 37 to 41 weeks of pregnancy or after 42 weeks (post-term).
How Meconium Aspiration Can Hurt Your Child
Particles of meconium, when mixed with amniotic fluid, have the ability to block the child’s small air passages and prevent the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen after birth. In some cases, the newborn will have immediate respiratory distress requiring resuscitation during the birthing process. In other cases, the child will develop respiratory distress in the hours after birth.
Often times, newborns experiencing meconium aspiration require a breathing machine (mechanical ventilator) to assist them during difficult breathing. This is because air can become trapped in the plugged air passageways and leak into the tissue that surrounds the lungs. These types of events often result in an infection that can develop into pneumonia. With proper treatment, the condition can improve within days. However, severe meconium aspiration can cause other significant respiratory problems that could lead to the child’s death.
The Symptoms and Signs of Meconium Aspiration
Meconium has a green appearance when suspended in amniotic fluid, which is referred to as meconium staining. Newborns exposed to meconium in the womb often display yellowed nails and skin. While every newborn experiences the symptoms and signs of meconium differently, the most common signs include:
- Rapid breathing
- Blue coloring (Cyanosis)
- Chest wall retraction
- Grunting sound while breathing
- Over-distended chest
Unfortunately, meconium aspiration can go undiagnosed because many of its symptoms and signs resemble other serious medical problems and conditions. The dangerous problem, if left untreated, could take the baby’s life.
Detecting the presence of meconium mixed with amniotic fluid in the womb is crucial to diagnosing the problem. Usually, doctors will take a chest x-ray of the newborn to assist in diagnosing meconium aspiration.
Treating Meconium Aspiration
Doctors treat meconium aspiration in various ways based on specific factors that include:
- The thickness and amount of the child’s released bowel movement
- The length of time the newborn was exposed to the substance
- The amount, degree and severity of respiratory distress
During the delivery process, the doctor may decide to suction the child’s upper airways including the throat, mouth and nose. In some situations, suctioning the lower air passageways helps alleviate issues when the meconium is extracted through an endotracheal tube. Often times, the baby is given supplemental oxygen through a mechanical ventilator or face mask.
Meconium and Cerebral Palsy
In severe cases, the child can suffer from asphyxia that deprives the newborn of oxygen to survive. A lack of sufficient oxygen at the time of birth can trigger onset cerebral palsy, which is a group of conditions referring to the impairment of muscle coordination and other disabilities caused by brain damage before, during or after birth.
The very presence of meconium in amniotic fluid is often the most significant indicator that the newborn suffered asphyxia, hypoxia or other level of trauma during the birthing process. To avoid this, the attending physician must ensure that the fetus is continuously monitored to look for any signs of fetal distress. Recognizing distress early on can provide immediate intervention to eliminate serious complications that include:
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Collapsed lung
- Brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation
- Persistent pulmonary hypertension
- Difficulty in breathing that last for days
Birth trauma that leads to cerebral palsy is often the result of medical malpractice or negligence on behalf of the doctor, staff or facility.
It is important to note that meconium is usually a sign that the newborn has become distressed. When the mother’s water breaks and appears as a greenish or greenish/yellowish color, it is essential to seek urgent medical attention immediately.