Birth Terminology Explained: Meconium

There is a lot of terminology thrown around when you enter the world of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, baby feeding, and early parenthood. In our “Terminology Explained” series, we help you break it down, bit by jargony bit. 

The term for today is meconium.

What is Meconium? 

Official Definition: Explained in simplest terms, meconium is your baby’s first bowel movement, or poop. It has a special name because meconium isn’t like the feces that’s produced later in your baby’s life. It is made up of things that were ingested while your baby was in utero, like amniotic fluid, mucus, lanugo (tiny, fine hairs that typically cover an infant’s body but are also shed in utero), bile, and skin and intestinal cells. Because of this, meconium looks very different — it’s dark and sticky like tar (ew), but has almost no odor (yay!). 

Meconium is most commonly passed after baby is born, and throughout the first few days after birth. However, some babies will pass amounts of meconium before birth or during labor and birth. Depending on the amount passed, which can be determined by examining the color and consistency of the amniotic fluid, passing meconium before birth can be a sign of distress and cause respiratory problems for baby, known as meconium aspiration syndrome.

When you will hear/see the term used? Meconium, also referred to as “mec” or “staining,” is a term used most often by care providers, including your OB or midwife and labor and delivery nurses, around the time of labor and birth. When your water breaks, whether on its own or artificially, the provider will report if the fluid is clear or has evidence of meconium. Meconium is also a favorite discussion for new parents, as many are caught off guard with its unusual appearance and incredible stickiness.  

Why is it important/beneficial? Learning about meconium helps you prepare by knowing about one of the new things you’ll experience in the first days of parenthood. Learning about the complications surrounding meconium can help you understand what you and your baby might experience if additional medical support is needed after birth. Most babies who experience meconium aspiration will be treated, monitored, and recover without long-lasting complications or damage. 

Learn more about meconium, including how aspiration is treated at birth and tips for cleaning it off your baby’s bottom at Verywell Family

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