Meconium and Newborn Babies

Meconium often surprises parents, especially when it's their first child. Just the same, it's something very natural.
Meconium and Newborn Babies

Last update: 03 September, 2018

Meconium is a newborn’s first stool after being born. It generally appears within 48 hours. The substance is made up of epithelial cells from the intestines, water, lanugo, amniotic liquid and bile. It has a thick and sticky consistency, and is dark green in color.

Meconium and its excretion into amniotic liquid

While your child is still in the mother’s womb, he or she inhales amniotic liquid. All of the components that are dissolved in this substance accumulate in the fetus’s intestines and form meconium. This is normal, natural, and no cause for alarm. Meconium is the expulsion of waste that the baby’s body no longer needs.

However, if a baby goes through fetal distress before or during labor, he or she may have intestinal contractions. These will make the baby’s anal sphincter relax and allow for the expulsion of meconium into the amniotic liquid.

When birth doesn’t occur in time, meconium can reach the lungs of the fetus. This medical complication is known as mecomium aspiration syndrome.

Meconium and Newborn Babies

Meconium aspiration syndrome

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is a severe respiratory difficulty. It occurs when a baby inhales meconium that has dissolved in amniotic fluid and this reaches the baby’s lungs. The effect on the fetus will depend on the quantity and consistency of the meconium inhaled.

Among the most common causes of meconium aspiration syndrome are the following:

  • Preclampsia.
  • Smoking.
  • Placental insufficiency.
  • A delay in the fetus’s growth.
  • Prolapse of the umbilical cord.
  • Respiratory illness in the mother.
  • Cardiovascular defects in the mother.
  • Chorioamnionitis (infection of the amniotic liquid).
  • Lack of amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios).
  • Premature placenta abruption.
  • The prolonged permanence of the fetus within the mother’s womb (birth after the baby’s due date).

Preventing meconium aspiration syndrome can be difficult. In fact, the only way to achieve it is to avoid unhealthy habits, like smoking and alcohol. Also, it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders throughout your pregnancy.

To reduce the effects of this urgent situation, treatment must begin from the moment the baby is born. This is the only way to avoid complications that can lead to lung hypertension and brain damage in the child.

Keep timing in mind

The premature excretion of meconium also poses a problem. This situation occurs when the fetus is still in the placenta and releases meconium. At the same time, delays in the appearance of meconium after a baby is born is another situation that requires vigilance.

Studies have shown that a delay in a baby’s first bowel movement is related to pathologies such as cystic fibrosis or a perforation in the intestines. Therefore, if a baby doesn’t have a bowel movement within 48 hours of birth, parents should consult a pediatrician right away.

Meconium and Newborn Babies

How to clean meconium

Cleaning up meconium requires a bit more care than cleaning up regular fecal waste. Given its sticky consistency, it adheres to the baby’s skin, making it difficult to wipe. However, there’s no need to panic .

The process of removing meconium should be gentle. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Carefully remove the diaper. To keep your baby’s back from getting dirty, you should gently hold his or her ankles and lift slightly. Then pull the diaper out from under your baby.
  2. Once you have removed the diaper, you should wash your baby with lukewarm water from the waste down. By doing this, you will manage to remove most of the meconium without the need for excess rubbing.
  3. Dry with wet wipes. Be very gentle and don’t rush. Be careful not to rub too much, which can irritate your little one’s delicate skin.
  4. Remember that you should always wipe your baby from front to back. Never wipe from back to front, as this can be a cause for infection.
  5. In the case that some fragments of meconium remain stuck to your baby’s skin, you should simply leave them. Meconium is much less damaging to your child’s skin than excessive rubbing.

Meconium is unpleasant to the eyes and is also difficult to clean up. However, its presence is a clear sign that a little one’s intestines are working well.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • García, J. O., Gallardo, D. C., i Tortajada, J. F., Macián, A. M., & Grimalt, J. O. (2004). Meconio y exposición prenatal a neurotóxicos. Revista Española de, 60(4), 291-296.
  • Malagón, G. M., Martínez, C. A., Castillo, K., Delfín, L., Cruz, E., & Paniagua, M. E. (2008). Síndrome de aspiración de meconio. Lavado traqueobronquial con surfactante y administración de éste como reemplazo. Reporte de caso. Revista Mexicana de Pediatría, 75(6), 270-276.
  • Quintero-Villegas, L., Rodríguez-Balderrama, I., & de la O-Cavazos, M. (2012). Incidencia y morbimortalidad del recién nacido con síndrome de aspiración de meconio en un hospital de tercer nivel. Medicina Universitaria, 14(57), 205-10.
  • Valdés Moreno, J., Cardellá Rosales, L., Gómez Álvarez, A. M., & Rojas Palacios, G. (2002). Determinación de variables metabólicas en recién nacidos con presencia de meconio en el líquido amniótico. Revista Cubana de Investigaciones Biomédicas, 21(4), 248-252.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.