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Meconium Aspiration – Life

Meconium aspiration can affect infants to varying degrees, often depending on the amount of meconium aspirated.

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. For the purposes of the information here (and not for medical or diagnostic purposes), the effects can be considered as mild, moderate or severe. In the first two instances (mild to moderate aspiration), most babies make a full recovery and do not require special care or treatment after recovery.

Mild meconium aspiration would include those cases where the infant has aspirated some meconium, requiring perhaps some relatively non-invasive treatment and monitoring in the neonatal intensive care unit but is generally responsive and has no signs of serious breathing difficulties or oxygen deprivation. Typically, these babies are monitored for a few days and may require some suctioning procedures to remove meconium from their system or to be put in intensive care with extra oxygen.

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Life with an infant that has aspirated a small amount of meconium, or even was diagnosed with the mild form of the syndrome is not too different from what you would expect your life with a newborn to be. Generally, your doctor may want to place the baby on antibiotics for a few days to a week, and you should be on the lookout for any respiratory distress, lack of crying or hunger, rasping or overly-rapid breathing over the baby’s first few weeks. However, you are likely to have the normal life of a parent with a newborn without additional complications.

Moderate meconium aspiration describes those infants who are born with some moderate breathing difficulties and require breathing support such as CPAP or ventilation. In some cases, these babies may be given surfactant treatment and inhaled nitric oxide treatments. These babies typically need some more monitoring and to be in intensive care for a longer period of time, up to a few weeks, as these infants are at a higher risk of infection and pneumonia. Once your baby goes home, they may have a higher risk of infection than other infants and need to be monitored carefully. Even so, again, once they have recovered there are typically no further long-term issues, but, as parents, you should be on the watch for any difficulties breathing, developmental issues, or unusual signs (lack of appetite, lack of crying, etc.).

Severe meconium aspiration would describe infants who have severe respiratory issues that develop into related conditions, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, lung hyperinflation and collapse and chemical pneumonia. These infants need additional artificial breathing help and more invasive treatments. In addition to the ventilation, surfactant treatment, and inhaled nitric oxide treatments, these infants may also need extracorporeal membrane oxygenation treatment (ECMO), and other invasive surgeries to relieve air pressure in the chest cavity. As such, the infants may have side effects from these treatments and require further hospitalization and care, and it may be a number of weeks before they can go home with their parents.

Finally, in severe cases, it may lead to long-term health issues such as cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities. Also, meconium aspiration can lead to oxygen deprivation which, in severe cases, can lead to long-term brain damage. In these cases, life will look different from the norm for the infant and the parents. With such long-term health problems, you can expect more frequent doctors’ visits and continued monitoring of the infant. You may also expect that you will need more help to ameliorate the infant’s developmental issues, such as physio therapists to help with any motor-skills deficiencies, special tutoring, and help from education experts. As with mild and moderate cases, you should continue to look for increased susceptibility to infection and any latent breathing difficulties that may arise so that you can get your child to a doctor quickly.

In these severe cases, the extent to which your baby’s complications affects your lives will vary with the type and severity of the complications, but you should work with your doctor to ensure you can prepare yourself for what the child will need in the future. Support groups are often available through your hospital or by asking for a recommendation from your doctor. The other parents in support groups will be able to help you know what to expect as your child gets older.