Parents of children who develop cerebral palsy understandably want to know the cause of the neurological injury. Cerebral palsy can be caused by genetic mutations, infections in the mother or baby, traumatic head injury, and lack of blood or oxygen to the brain while in the womb. Sometimes, it is impossible to determine the cause. Where a child was born with a difficult labor and delivery, however, the cause is sometimes possible to discover using evidence accumulated at the birth. One important piece of the puzzle is meconium.
What is Meconium?
Simply put, meconium is early baby poop. It is a viscous, tar-like substance, and is different from normal fecal matter because of what the baby ingests while in utero: mucus, amniotic fluid, bile, water, hair and tissue cells. Sometimes meconium is passed after the child is born, because those substances are still in the baby’s stomach and digestive system. Other times, meconium is “delivered” alongside the baby and the placenta.
How is Meconium Connected to Cerebral Palsy?
The presence of meconium-stained amniotic fluid is one indication that the baby suffered hypoxia or asphyxia—some sort of trauma during labor and delivery whereby the baby had to survive with decreased oxygenation. When the baby experiences fetal distress, the lack of oxygen causes the intestinal muscles to relax, which can cause release of meconium.
Of course, this is a hotly-debated conclusion—ACOG claims that there is insufficient evidence of a relationship between meconium and cerebral palsy injuries, but there are numerous studies to the contrary. Medical experts will consider the presence or absence of meconium as one additional factor in deciding whether a child’s cerebral palsy was caused by lack of oxygen near the time of birth.
Unrelated to cerebral palsy, it is important for doctors, nurses and new parents to closely monitor a newborn’s bowel movements, including the presence of meconium at delivery. A newborn’s inability to poop within 48 hours of birth is a red flag that could indicate Hirschsprung’s disease, a congenital disorder of the colon that can cause constipation. Other symptoms include green vomit, explosive stools on digital examination, a swollen stomach and gas. Left unresolved, the baby can suffer a life-threatening emergency very early in life, and may require surgery of the colon, including the removal of parts of the colon.
Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS)
Also unrelated to cerebral palsy is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. MAS is a condition where the baby passes meconium while in the womb, sometimes because of fetal distress. If the baby aspirates the amniotic fluid, either before or during labor, the baby can experience several complications, including airway obstruction and persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN).
There are many important elements to consider when investigating whether a child’s cerebral palsy was caused by negligence during labor and delivery. If you believe that your child suffers from a birth injury, contact our birth injury malpractice lawyers at (440) 252-4399 or through our online request form.