The average obstetrician usually appears calm and collected while assisting a woman in labor. However, the doctor is closely monitoring both mother and infant, watching for potential signs of trouble during birth. Certain issues typically raise immediate concern for an OB-GYN, such as meconium passage during labor, which is often a sign of fetal distress.
Meconium is a tarry-green substance that forms a newborn infant’s first bowel movements. In a healthy newborn, this substance is usually expelled from an infant’s body shortly after birth. In certain circumstances, a baby experiencing distress in the womb may experience the passage of meconium before exiting the birth canal. An OB or nurse who sees meconium mixed with amniotic fluid, such as if a woman’s water sac has broken, understands that immediate measures must be taken to keep the infant from asphyxiating.
Asphyxiation may occur if an infant inhales meconium
These additional signs, besides seeing a tarry substance mixed with amniotic fluid, suggest meconium aspiration syndrome:
- Low fetal heart rate
- Newborn with blue skin tones
- Muscle limpness
- Infant having trouble breathing
If an OB-GYN knows ahead of time that a baby about to be born has shed meconium (such as when it is seen in amniotic fluid) he or she can be ready to act quickly.
Meconium aspiration can cause brain damage
In many cases, babies who have ingested or inhaled meconium during birth are able to thrive, although they may experience rapid breathing for several days after birth. If proper monitoring and treatment are not provided, an infant may suffer a lack of oxygen in the uterus or complications from meconium aspiration that can potentially result in brain damage.