Though birth is truly a medical miracle of the human body, it can also be a little gross. After nine months of nourishment and development, your baby will need to pass his or her first bowel movement. The fecal material is not quite like that of an adult because it is only composed of materials ingested in the womb. These include amniotic fluid, bile, water, mucus, and lanugo. The fecal material is sticky and odorless, and it’s usually a dark green color.

Normally, meconium is passed within the first few days of life. If your baby has not passed it after a few days, you should contact his or her health care provider, as it could be a symptom of a more serious condition. In some cases, the meconium is passed too early while the baby is still in utero, and it gets into the amniotic fluid. This occurs in less than 20% of all births. When it happens, the baby can ingest meconium by breathing it in. This is called meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS).

It is not unusual for meconium to be expelled in normal pregnancies, though occasionally it can also be expelled too early when the pregnancy does beyond the due date or when the fetus is under stress in some way. Your doctor will know that your baby might have expelled it if your amniotic fluid is discolored. However, just because there is meconium in the fluid does not mean your baby inhaled it. Your doctor will need to perform tests after delivery to find out whether or not his or her breathing is labored. Once your doctor has determined that your baby might be suffering from MAS, he or she will need to provide treatment to extract the meconium from the lungs. Suction devices work, and amnioinfusions have also shown some benefits. If these methods don’t assist your baby’s breathing and overall health, he or she will need to be heavily monitored until stable. Unfortunately, MAS accounts for a considerable amount of neonatal deaths in otherwise healthy infants.

Keep in mind, your baby’s chances of expelling meconium into the amniotic fluid are slim. Even if he or she does, there is only a 5% chance that they’ll breathe it in. However, if your doctor notices that your baby might have MAS, make sure you follow his or her orders directly about neonatal care. With proper supervision and procedures, your baby might get over the MAS and you can take him or her home to start your new life together as a family.

Source: Jeanne Wiedermann et al: Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. Neonatal Network – The Journal of Neonatal Nursing Volume 27 Issue 2 April 2008