Meconium Aspiration Syndrome & Legal Compensation for Related Medical Errors
The first stool of a baby is known as meconium. A baby may pass meconium before or shortly after birth. In rare cases, small babies who are born at full term may develop meconium aspiration syndrome. This means that they breathe meconium into their lungs after passing it before birth. A child usually will recover completely from meconium aspiration syndrome without complications, but a failure to promptly treat this condition can cause serious problems. These may include persistent pulmonary hypertension, lung infections, or even lung collapse when meconium blocks a lung or causes it to expand too far. In extreme cases, meconium aspiration syndrome may be life-threatening.
This condition often arises from fetal infections or oxygen deprivation. A child may inhale more vigorously to compensate for the lack of oxygen. This can cause them to inhale meconium in the amniotic fluid. Doctors may be especially alert to the risk of meconium aspiration syndrome if a baby misses their due date or if they go through a long, stressful labor and delivery.
Maternal Risk Factors
High blood pressure
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
Stains of meconium may appear on a baby who has inhaled this substance. A baby also may have problems with their breathing or heart rate, and they may appear bluish or limp. In some cases, yellow or green water released from a pregnant woman may suggest the presence of meconium in amniotic fluid.
A doctor may diagnose meconium aspiration syndrome based on a chest X-ray, fetal heart rate monitoring, and a blood gas analysis, among other tools. They also may use a stethoscope to identify issues with breathing, or a laryngoscope to check for meconium stains on vocal cords. Through a blood culture test, they can check for bacteria associated with this condition. Doctors may conduct additional tests to determine whether a child has developed other conditions involving the heart or lungs.
Treatment for Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
Once they diagnose meconium aspiration syndrome, a doctor should suction the mouth of the child as soon as possible. A child may be placed in a neonatal intensive care unit and receive breathing support, such as a supply of oxygen through a breathing tube. Treatment may depend on the amount of meconium inhaled and the severity of symptoms. A doctor may tap on the child’s chest to loosen secreted meconium and may prescribe antibiotics to address related infections. Other techniques for dealing with this issue include:
Warmers to maintain body temperature
Nitric oxide to open blood vessels
Surfactant to open lungs
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO): this technique involves transferring blood from a child to an artificial lung, adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, and transferring the blood back to the child
Compensation for Complications of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
A baby generally should recover from meconium aspiration syndrome within a few weeks. However, some children may suffer from permanent disabilities affecting the lungs or brain. This is especially likely if the condition was not addressed promptly, causing extended oxygen deprivation before birth. Parents may shoulder substantial costs in treating permanent disabilities, which may affect a child’s quality of life. If errors by a health care provider caused complications of meconium aspiration syndrome, pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit can help a family get compensation for these losses.
Cases arising from birth injuries and other forms of medical malpractice are more complex than ordinary personal injury claims. This is partly because the standard of care is not simply what a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances, but instead what a competent medical provider in the same field as the defendant would have done. To define the applicable standard of care, a family usually must present expert testimony from a doctor or another medical professional. An expert also can describe how errors by the defendant caused or contributed to the child’s condition.
Affidavits of Merit
Often, a person filing a medical malpractice claim also must file an affidavit of merit early in the case. In an affidavit of merit, a qualified medical expert who has reviewed the records confirms that a claim has a strong foundation.