Objective: We attempted to determine the impact of "early" (before delivery of the chest) oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning at the perineum in the prevention of meconium aspiration syndrome and to confirm that meconium aspiration syndrome is a postnatal event.
Study design: We compared infants with meconium-stained fluid who underwent "early" oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning with a similar group of infants whose airways were suctioned "late" (after chest delivery). Practicing obstetricians did not know the study was being conducted by the pediatric staff, and an independent observer documented whether obstetricians performed "early" or "late" oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning. Immediate postnatal tracheal suctioning was performed in both groups. The study was conducted in a private tertiary care center averaging 5800 deliveries annually. A consecutive sample of 438 infants with meconium-stained fluid was analyzed. Of these infants, 221 received "early" oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning, while 217 infants were suctioned "late".
Results: Of the 438 infants with meconium-stained fluid, meconium aspiration syndrome developed in 38 (9%). These infants had higher rates of fetal distress (i.e., abnormal fetal heart rates) and lower Apgar scores (< or = 6) than infants without meconium aspiration syndrome (58% vs 17% and 65% vs 13%, respectively; p < 0.001). Forty-five percent of the infants with meconium aspiration syndrome had renal failure during the first 20 hours of life. In spite of "early" oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning, 53% of the infants in this group had meconium below the vocal cords and meconium aspiration syndrome developed in 7%. The time of oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning did not affect the rate of meconium aspiration syndrome or the presence of meconium below the vocal cords.
Conclusions: We concluded that "early" oronasopharyngeal DeLee suctioning at the perineum does not affect the rate of meconium aspiration syndrome. We speculate that meconium aspiration syndrome is predominantly an intrauterine event associated with fetal distress and that meconium in the airways is merely a "marker" of previous fetal hypoxia.