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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

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Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

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Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

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Meconium Aspiration – Symptoms

Meconium aspiration can cause serious respiratory and other problems (such as lung damage) in fetuses and infants. Meconium is a baby’s first fecal matter which, in rare cases, can be expelled by the fetus in the womb or during delivery, and subsequently inhaled into the fetus or baby’s lungs. The presence of meconium in the lungs is what causes complications and induces the clinical Meconium Aspiration Syndrome.

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Pre-Birth Signs

This Syndrome only happens when meconium is aspirated, and therefore, one sign can be when meconium is detected in the amniotic fluid upon birth or when a mother’s water breaks. As such, mothers who detect a greenish or brownish tint in their water that breaks should let their doctor know immediately, as that greenish tint is a sign as well.

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Further, any signs of stress in the womb can indicate the potential presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid. For example, a fetus with an abnormal heart rate, a sudden change in heart rate, or high blood pressure may be experiencing distress and may be more likely to release meconium pre-delivery. Signs of stress on the part of the mother could also translate to fetal stress, which could make premature meconium release more likely.

Symptoms in the Infant

If the meconium release happened a considerable time before the birth, then the meconium could have stained the baby’s skin, nail beds, or the umbilical cord a yellow or greenish color or tint. While this staining likely indicates the presence of meconium, the presence of this greenish hue does not necessarily mean that the meconium was aspirated by the fetus in the womb.

Other symptoms have to do with the baby’s breathing patterns immediately after birth. Any respiratory distress could indicate that a baby has aspirated meconium and may have Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. These signs of respiratory distress include rapid, noisy, or labored breathing, as well as grunting when your infant attempts to breathe. In severe cases where meconium has blocked much of the infant’s airway, the infant may stop breathing completely. If any of these symptoms are present, your doctor may order a chest X-ray. If the chest X-ray shows patches or streaks in the infant’s lungs, this may confirm that the infant has inhaled meconium.

Cyanosis can also be a symptom of the Syndrome. Cyanosis is the term for the appearance of a bluish tint to an infant’s skin, nails and mucous membranes. Cyanosis is caused by low oxygen circulation in the blood, and therefore, it makes sense that this would be a sign of, as it is typically the distress caused by a shortage of oxygen that triggers the early release of meconium. For similar reasons, low blood pressure after delivery can also be a symptom.

Related to all the other symptoms, a low APGAR score is another indication for doctors that an infant has aspired meconium. APGAR is a test that is performed on an infant immediately after delivery (at one minute) and then again at five minutes after delivery. The APGAR test measures the breathing effort, heart rate, skin color, and reflexes.

Finally, any limpness at birth is a symptom that can cause doctors to suspect an infant has Meconium Aspiration Syndrome.