One of the main causes of severe illness and death among new babies is meconium aspiration syndrome (sometimes referred to as “MAS”).
In fact, it’s estimated between 5 and 20 percent of all infants pass meconium – which is the baby’s first feces or stool – into the amniotic fluid during birth. Further, between 5 and 10 percent of all newborns inhale a mix of meconium and amniotic fluid.
In a normal, healthy birth process, meconium is safely in the baby’s intestines until after birth. However, it is sometimes expelled while the child is still in the uterus. Usually, this is caused when the child is either late-term or fetal distress. When the meconium is passed prior to birth, the fetus is at risk of inhaling it into the lungs, which can make it difficult for the lungs to supply oxygen to the brain. It may also cause a form of chemical pneumonia when the substance is inhaled deep into the lungs. About one-third of infants who suffer MAS need assistance with breathing.
At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our Boston birth injury attorneys know that while the condition almost always catches new parents totally off-guard, doctors often have an idea of when a fetus may be exposed to danger. Some of the risk factors include:
- Prolonged labor
- Umbilical cord prolapse
- Late-term baby
- Maternal high blood pressure
- Placental abruption
- Shoulder dystocia
- Diabetes in mother
- Difficult delivery
- Hyperstimulation of uterus (too many contractions in a short time frame)
These situations require careful fetal monitoring during labor and delivery. Any indication of reduced oxygen or slow heart rate must be met with swift response. Failure to do so could be grounds for medical malpractice litigation.Prevention of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
When a pregnancy goes beyond 40 weeks, it can result in an “aging” of the placenta, which is the organ that supplies nourishment to the baby inside the uterus. As it ages, it may not be as effective in delivering oxygen to the baby. That’s why we tend to see more of this condition in newborns who are overdue, as opposed to those who are on-time or premature.
What that means is one of the best ways to ward of meconium aspiration is for doctors to either:
- Initiate a birth plan that does not result in a dangerously late-term childbirth;
- Closely monitor infants who may be at risk for these conditions;
- Act immediately when indications are that MAS has occurred.
Typically, there is no imaging device used in the midst of labor, so doctors won’t actually see the fluid entering the fetus’ lungs. However, when monitoring the fetal heart rate and blood pressure, there may be indications of a problem. Health care workers must swiftly respond.
If the substance (which is typically dark green) is visible either on the child or within the amniotic fluid upon delivery, it is an indication that the doctor and other health care providers should take action to prevent the harmful effects of MAS.
To confirm a diagnosis, doctors may:
- A chest x-ray to determine whether material has entered the lungs;
- A blood gas test to determine whether the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are where they should be.
- Failure to act promptly when there is a known risk, resulting in harm to the child, could be a form of medical malpractice.
Newborns suffering from MAS require immediate treatment so that the meconium can be removed from the lungs.
Promptly after delivery, health care workers may need to place a tube in the baby’s windpipe to suction the meconium and fluid from the lungs. If the child isn’t breathing, a mask may be placed on the baby’s face to help inflate the lungs and deliver oxygen.
If this emergency treatment is successful, the baby must be carefully monitored. Additional treatments may include:
- Ventilator treatment
- Oxygen therapy
- Radiant warmer
With fast, appropriate treatment, many newborns who suffer from MAS will not have any long-term health complications. However, failure to treat it properly can result in death.
Even if the child survives, there may be risk of infection and inflammation of the lungs. In some cases, it may result in permanent brain damage (due to lack of oxygen) or a condition known as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, which causes potentially fatal breathing problems.
If your baby has died or suffered ill effects as a result of MAS, our experienced birth injury lawyers are prepared to answer your questions about what legal options you may have.