Meconium in newborns may gross out first time parents, but it can be a great tool in diagnosing drug exposure and other issues. Below is some basic information on this early part of babyhood, as well as how it is presented in some illnesses.
What Is Meconium in Newborns?
In short, meconium is just a fancy, scientific name for poop. To explain it a bit more, it's actually the earliest stool an infant passes after birth. While most fecal matter is made up of what the baby digests, the meconium is instead composed of mostly what was inside of the baby's intestines in utero. This may include amniotic fluid, mucus, water and other liquid and solid matter. Unlike all other types of human stool, meconium is usually sterile and has no odor. It may be passed only once by the infant, but oftentimes it takes a few days to completely leave the newborn's system.
Meconium is recognized by medical professionals for its tar-like color and composition, as it is thicker, stickier and darker than what is later found in a diaper once baby has started to digest milk. The name itself comes from the root word meconium-arion, which Aristotle used to describe his theory that the substance causes the fetus to sleep while in the womb.
Meconium and Infant Illness
When a baby is born, sometimes meconium either positively or negatively plays a role. On the good side of things, it can be used to diagnose certain illnesses. When meconium becomes too thick, it is called meconium ileus. This is sometimes a strong tell-tale symptom of cystic fibrosis, a fatal disease that makes itself known shortly after birth.
Meconium can also help health officials determine whether or not a baby was exposed to illegal narcotics while in utero. In some instances, if there is suspicion of drug abuse, meconium can be tested for these harmful substances, and in turn this test can be sent over to law enforcement or child protective services. Many times meconium testing has protected a newborn from going home with an unfit parent and also has helped medical staff know how to properly diagnose, treat and care for a baby experiencing drug-related health issues.
Unfortunately, meconium can sometimes cause an illness instead of play the role of an indicator in curing one. This disease is called meconium aspiration syndrome, also known as MAS. This takes place when, instead of passing a normal bowel movement shortly after birth, an infant inhales meconium into the lungs either during or prior to delivery. It is believed that this can happen in approximately 20% of all births, and it is more common with infants who have been delivered past their projected due date. A baby who is under fetal distress can also aspirate.
Due to the effects of MAS, including the substance blocking air passageways, lowering the functionality of the lungs and sometimes burning the baby's airways, approximately one third of MAS-afflicted infants Oxygen Therapy in the NICU need help breathing after birth. MAS symptoms include green stains on the baby's skin and fingernails, a slowing heartbeat, low Apgar score or strained breathing. Since MAS is tricky to prevent, doctors are vigilant in delivering babies as close to their due date as possible, and being prepared for such an occurrence of a baby is post term. Oftentimes hospital-caliber suction equipment can resolve MAS, while sometimes surgery is necessary. Like many childhood issues, the diagnosis and treatment is unique to each baby born with some a condition, and the prognosis is completely different in each case. Overall, babies with MAS may catch a complication or two such as pneumonia, but almost always go on to lead normal and happy lives.