I recently spent some time sorting through some family photos and had a chance to reminisce about our pregnancies and the births of our four children. During those years, I was already a medical malpractice attorney, spending a substantial amount of my time on birth injury cases.
As you might imagine, I was extremely interested in the safety of my wife and our unborn children through the pregnancy and labor and delivery process. My mind wandered, and I began to think about the different things I was on alert for when it came to comments from our OB/GYN, resident physicians, and labor and delivery nurses. One of the key words that I listened for was meconium.
What is meconium?
Meconium is a baby’s first stool or bowel movement that looks dark green. Normally, it happens after birth, but if the baby is under stress while still in the womb or during delivery, it can happen before birth.
Bear in mind that, before birth, babies are in a sac filled with amniotic fluid. While they’re still in the womb, they breathe this amniotic fluid. When meconium stool is released before the baby is born, it mixes with the amniotic fluid and the baby can breathe it in. This means that the meconium stool contaminates the baby’s lungs and airway. If delivery occurs in emergency conditions of fetal distress, the baby can even breathe in meconium shortly after being born.
It’s important for doctors and nurses to quickly suction out the baby’s nose, mouth, and throat to minimize the risk of meconium aspiration. In severe cases, meconium can completely block a newborn’s airway, which stops the ability to breathe.
Meconium aspiration syndrome
Many babies who inhale meconium stool develop a dangerous condition called meconium aspiration syndrome, which causes the baby to experience respiratory distress, meaning difficulty breathing.
Healthcare providers should look for signs of difficulty breathing in babies who aspirated meconium, including:
• A skin color with a bluish tint (this is called cyanosis)
• Abnormal breath sounds, like grunting
• Rapid breathing
• Low blood pressure
Most newborns recover with appropriate treatment, which may include clearing the airway, making sure that the baby is getting enough oxygen (which in some cases may involve inserting a breathing tube), and giving antibiotics.
Negligence in meconium management
When there is a delay in diagnosing and treating meconium aspiration, it can lead to infection and sepsis.
The medical literature also reflects that newborns with meconium aspiration syndrome have an increased risk of developing a respiratory abnormality called pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. This is a dangerous cardiac condition where the arteries carrying blood from the heart to the lungs are constricted or narrowed, which decreases blood flow. This makes the heart muscle have to work extra hard to pump and push through blood into the lungs, so they can get oxygenation. If the condition is persistent or chronic, it can cause heart damage.
The worst complication that can occur with meconium aspiration syndrome is a brain injury. This happens when meconium stool blocks the airway and cuts off oxygen to the brain.
A top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney can investigate and evaluate whether doctors or nurses were negligent in delaying delivery of a baby in fetal distress or addressing meconium aspiration after birth. If so, pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible healthcare providers may provide much-needed financial resources to help take care of the needlessly injured newborn.