What is Meconium?
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You may have heard meconium being referred to either in the term 'meconium in your waters' or in reference to early nappy surprises. You should make sure that you understand what meconium is now, so that you are prepared for both of these occurrences.
What is meconium?
In brief, meconium is the substance that forms your baby's first bowel movement. While the umbilical cord takes away the waste resulting from the nutrients passed from the placenta, the intestines build up some waste from the materials the baby consumes orally. Meconium is made up of the materials ingested by the baby such as amniotic fluid, mucus and lanugo (the fine hair covering the baby's skin which is shed towards the end of pregnancy). The substance is thick like tar, and dark-green in colour. Once the baby's gut is mature (usually after delivery), the meconium is excreted.
Meconium in your waters
If your baby passes their first bowel movement whilst they are still in your uterus then meconium will be passed into the amniotic fluid. This is what is meant by having meconium in your waters. This will be evident during labour and birth as your waters (amniotic fluid) will be stained from the meconium. You can recognise meconium in your waters if they appear brown or green in colour, as opposed to clear and light yellow.
Having meconium in your waters is not necessarily dangerous, but it can be an indication that the baby is, or has been, suffering from foetal distress. Alternatively, it could just be a sign that the baby's gut is mature. If the consistency is quite thick then this is more likely to be an indication that there are problems as it means that the levels of amniotic fluid diluting the meconium are low. To be on the safe side, it is very important that you let your hospital or antenatal team know that your waters are stained as soon as you notice. They will then monitor the baby closely for any other signs of distress.
Meconium aspiration syndrome
The most common concern for babies being delivered when meconium is present in the water is the risk of meconium being present in their lungs. This is known as meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS). MAS can have varying effects on the baby's ability to breath and he or she will be treated as necessary.
Meconium excreted after birth
Otherwise known as the first dirty nappy! That is of course, if it is excreted into the nappy. Often, a skin to skin cuddle with a newborn baby can cause the dark sticky substance to appear. All babies need to pass their meconium, yet it helps for new parents to be aware of it so that the appearance doesn't come as too much of a surprise! It can be a little difficult to remove from the skin as it is so thick, but the best way to do this is to use cotton wool and warm water.