Claims for meconium aspiration syndrome

Introduction

Updated: October 8, 2018

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS) is a condition unique to newborn babies, and is caused by events just before or during birth.

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Meconium is the term given to the first semi-solid waste passed by a baby, usually after the baby has been born. In some cases, perhaps in response to foetal distress, the baby's intestines contract and relax to expel the meconium early. This waste contaminates the amniotic fluid surrounding the foetus and if it is inhaled may irritate the airways and lungs, causing respiratory issues.

While it is less likely that negligence on the part of a midwife or other professional would specifically trigger meconium aspiration syndrome, it may be possible to make a clinical negligence claim if the syndrome is not promptly identified and treated to an acceptable standard of care.

Can meconium aspiration be prevented?

Although rare, there is no way to prevent meconium aspiration from occuring and all newborn babies are technically at risk.

Healthcare professionals have identified that babies may have an increased risk of MAS if the mother has diabetes or high blood pressure. The risk is also greater when the baby is overdue or the labour is particularly long.

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What are the signs or symptoms of MAS?

The first sign that meconium may have been passed is usually the colour of the amniotic fluid. Instead of being clear and watery, the fluid may be stained blue-green or yellowish. It may also be thicker in consistency.

It may be also possible for the midwife or obstetrician to detect an infant's lower heart rate before delivery, indicating the baby may have inhaled meconium.

The baby, once delivered, may show signs of MAS. These signs may include:

  • blue discolouration of the skin, fingernails or umbilical cord,
  • breathing difficulties,
  • the baby may be limp and less responsive

Confirmation that the baby has MAS may be made by listening for lung abnormalities or by carrying out blood gas tests.

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How is meconium aspiration syndrome treated?

Treatment should be immediate as delay may result in long-term respiratory problems.

An endotracheal tube may be inserted to clear the baby's upper and lower airways. The tube uses suction to remove the meconium. The baby may also need oxygen therapy and a surfactant treatment to prevent the lungs collapsing. Antibiotics may also be given.

Blood tests (for oxygen levels) and X-rays should be performed to ensure the lungs have been sufficiently cleared and that the baby is getting enough oxygen into his system.

Can there be complications?

Children who inhaled meconium before or during birth may be susceptible to other chest conditions if they have sustained respiratory damage through MAS. These conditions include asthma and other breathing difficulties and chest infections. If the baby has been exposed to high levels of meconium he may have permanent lung damage.

Failure to treat MAS appropriately may deprive a baby of oxygen, leading in extreme cases to permanent, significant brain damage or death.

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Can I make a clinical negligence claim in respect of meconium aspiration syndrome?

Meconium aspiration syndrome should be an easily-identifiable condition in most cases.

If a child has sustained respiratory illness or other conditions through undiagnosed or untreated MAS, it may be possible to bring a claim for negligence against the healthcare professionals involved with the baby's birth.

Any illness or condition arising from the syndrome may not be immediately evident. A person who was affected by MAS during their own birth may bring a claim up to 3 years after his or her 18th birthday. Alternatively, a parent or guardian may make a claim on an affected child's behalf before this date.

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Meet the team

Quittance's nationwide panel of solicitors take on all types of clinical negligence claims, including fast track, complex and catastrophic injury claims. Our lawyers are selected on the basis of their track record in winning claims and their knowledge and expertise.

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Kevin Walker Serious Injury Panel Solicitor
Carol Cook Clinical Negligence Panel Solicitor
Lee Raynor Clinical Negligence Panel Solicitor
Jenny Jones, Senior litigator

About the author

With over 20 years' experience in the law, Jenny has spent the last decade specialising in personal injury, with a particular focus on industrial disease cases.

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