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ABCs of Newborns- M is for Meconium

by | Jul 9, 2019 | Labor & Birth, Newborns | 0 comments

So you may have heard the word meconium, but what exactly is it? And why do babies produce it? And … why do a lot of terms having to do with newborns have to sound so scientific and confusing?!

Meconium is essentially a baby’s first bowel movement.  It is a sticky, tar-like substance comprised of all the materials the baby ingested in utero such as intestinal epithelial cells, amniotic fluid, lanugo (the fine, soft hair that covers a newborn’s body), mucus, bile, and water.  Thankfully, meconium isn’t smelly at all, and you won’t really have to worry about gross smelly stools until your baby starts eating solid foods.

Meconium is usually a dark yellow, brown, or green, and should be completely out of your baby’s system by a few days post-birth.  After this, your baby’s stool should be a light yellow color, as this is the color of digested breastmilk or formula.

The Latin term meconium derives from the Greek word μηκώνιον, pronounced mēkōnion, which refers to its tar-like substance and color.

Occasionally, the baby’s meconium is passed from the bowel while he or she is still in the womb.  Meconium can be expelled into the amniotic fluid prior to birth. If the amniotic fluid is stained with meconium, the medical staff may take extra precautions immedaitely following delivery to ensure that your baby does not inhale the meconuim.

Inhaling of the meconium-stained amniotic fluid is referred to as Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS), and may partially or completely block the baby’s airways via a meconium plug.  MAS may also affect the baby’s breathing by way of irritation of the lung tissue, infection, and the inactivation of surfactant by the meconium.

But don’t worry, even if your baby passed meconium in utero, MAS is extremely rare.  Of the up to 25% of babies born with meconium in their amniotic fluid, only 11% of them will have MAS. Signs of MAS are usually recognized during delivery or shortly after birth, and consist of discolored amniotic fluid, discoloration of the baby’s skin due to being stained by meconium, trouble breathing or rapid breathing, low heart rate, low APGAR score, and extreme limpness.  

If you notice what looks like meconium in your amniotic fluid when your water breaks, contact your midwife or OBGYN immediately.  This usually is not a problem whatsoever, but you can never be too careful when it comes to your labor and delivery of your newborn!  And trust us, although meconium can be disgusting, you’ll probably miss it once your baby’s poop becomes smelly.

Oh, and just a little hint … put lots of petroleum jelly on your baby’s bum in the few days following birth!  Since meconium is super sticky, the jelly will make it a lot easier to wipe off and less likely to get stuck to your baby’s bum or your hands. EW!

Sam Steel

BIRTH DOULA, POSTPARTUM DOULA, PLACENTA SPECIALIST + BEACH LOVER

Miami Beach, FL

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We are doulas living in Miami with a love for cafecito, pregnancy and newborns. We are the experts and the moms who have been there sharing our best tips and tricks with a side of inspiration. Our goal? Help you kick ass at this parenting gig.

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