The presence of meconium at birth tells us that the baby had an event where its oxygen supply was compromised. This could have happened anytime during the pregnancy or during labor. About 12% of live births have the presence of meconium at birth and only about .002% of those live births develops into meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) requiring special care.
Meconium is a substance in the intestines, like packing to keep the intestines ready for use when the baby gets born. A lack of oxygen causes the baby’s anal sphincter to relax and so some of the meconium gets released.
The presence of thick, green fresh meconium at birth is a sign that the baby had an episode of lack of oxygen during the labor. It is concerning because meconium is caustic to lung tissue. We want to help the baby avoid breathing it in when it takes its first breaths.
It used to be that they recommended deep suctioning when meconium was noticed but now studies have found that deep suctioning can cause a vasovagal response and artificially depress the infant. Suctioning does not prevent Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (Frye, 2013).
Does the presence of meconium at birth mean the baby is in distress?
No. Outcomes are similar.
Remember, Your Baby, your body and your choice.
Holistic Midwifery: A Comprehensive Textbook for Midwives in Homebirth Practice, Vol. 2: 2013