Meconium is the medical term for the newborn infant’s first stools. Meconium is composed of amniotic fluid, mucous, lanugo (the fine hair that covers the baby’s body), bile, and cells that have been shed from the skin and the intestinal tract. Meconium is thick, greenish black, and sticky.
During pregnancy the baby floats in the amniotic fluid that fills the mother’s uterus. This fluid protects the baby while he or she grows and develops. The baby swallows the amniotic fluid which contains all the other constituents mentioned above. All of the contents other than the amniotic fluid itself are filtered out and remain behind in the intestine while the amniotic fluid is absorbed and re-released into the uterine space when the fetus urinates. This cycle maintains the amniotic in a clear, healthy state during the nine months of pregnancy. This process of recycling the amniotic fluid occurs about every 3 hours.
In some cases, the baby stools while still inside the uterus, passing meconium. This usually happens when the baby is under stress. Once the meconium is passed into the amniotic fluid, it is possible for the baby to breathe the meconium into his lungs. This condition is called Meconium aspiration and can cause inflammation in the baby’s lungs after he is born.
This inflammation can cause the baby to go into respiratory distress. If meconium is detected in the amniotic fluid when the mother’s water breaks, special precautions are taken to clear the fluid from the baby’s stomach and lungs. See Meconium aspiration.
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.
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