What is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is a condition that newborn babies experience after they have breathed (aspirated) meconium into their lungs during or shortly before birth.  Meconium is dark green, sterile fecal matter that is found in the intestine before birth, distinct from stool because it does not contain bacteria.  MAS is a leading cause of severe illness and death in newborns, affecting 5 percent to 10 percent of newborns.  It is especially common when the fetus is under stress, often during labor, and can be exacerbated when the infant is past its due date.  Typically, the meconium is not released in the womb, but intrauterine distress can motivate the fetus to expel the fecal matter under certain conditions present at birth, such as inadequate oxygen in the blood.  This same stress may also cause the fetus to forcefully gasp, thereby inhaling the recently expelled meconium.

Symptoms of meconium aspiration syndrome include: bluish skin color in the newborn; breathing issues; dark, greenish staining or streaking of the amniotic fluid or the obvious presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid; limpness in the newborn at birth.  There are several ways to diagnose MAS.  Before birth, MAS may cause a slow heart rate, which can be detected by a fetal monitor.  At birth, meconium can be found in the amniotic fluid.  The most accurate test for MAS is using a laryngoscope to look for meconium stains on the vocal cords of the infant.  Abnormal breathing sounds, specifically coarse and crackly breathing, can point to MAS.  MAS is also characterized by low blood acidity, decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide in the blood.  A chest X-ray may also be used to look for patchy or streaky areas in the lungs.

A newborn’s mouth should always be suctioned once the head is out, which can help prevent MAS.  However, once MAS is diagnosed, there are other treatments available.  Such treatments include, antibiotics for infection; breathing machine to keep the lungs inflated; using a warmer to keep the infant at a normal body temperature; and tapping the chest to loosen secretions.  Typically, the prognosis for infants who experience meconium aspiration syndrome is excellent.  MAS is usually quickly treated and there are no long-term side effects.  Some infants may experience breathing problems for two to four days, but these quickly subside.  Although rare, more severe cases may cause long-term respiratory or developmental problems.  In such severe cases, meconium aspiration syndrome can deprive the brain of oxygen, causing permanent brain damage.  This can lead to the development of cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, or mental retardation.

There are some cases when infants suffer meconium aspiration syndrome as a direct result of the negligence of medical care providers.  In such cases, claims can be made against the negligent provider through a medical malpractice suit.  To have such a claim, you must first prove the existence of a “doctor-patient relationship” meaning that the provider agreed to care for your child.  You must then prove the provider’s negligence in caring for your child, typically through an expert witness.  Finally, you must prove the provider’s negligence directly caused your child’s MAS.  With these three conditions, you have a valid malpractice claim.

If you feel that your child has suffered from  Meconium Aspiration Syndrome give our experienced Boston injury lawyers a call to set up a confidential case consultation. 617-492-3000.


Clark, Melinda B. “Meconium Aspiration Syndrome.” Medscape. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.\

Kopelman, Arthur E. “Meconium Aspiration Syndrome.” Merck Manuals Consumer Version. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.

“Meconium Aspiration Syndrome.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in Baltimore, Maryland. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.

“Meconium Aspiration Syndrome and Legal Issues | Safe Birth Project.” Safe Birth Project RSS2. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.

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