Lung lavage for meconium aspiration syndrome in newborn infants

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is a disease of the newborn lung in which meconium, the fetal stool, is passed before birth and then is inhaled into the lung. Little effective treatment is available, other than supportive measures including artifical respiration and, occasionally, the use of heart-lung bypass. This review examined whether cleansing the lung using a natural chemical called surfactant, or another similar fluid, is helpful in MAS. This cleansing procedure is known as lung lavage. Lung lavage with diluted surfactant may help improve the clinical course of infants with MAS, in particular, the likelihood of survival without the need for heart-lung bypass. More trials will be needed to properly evaluate lavage treatment in MAS.

Authors' conclusions: 

In infants with meconium aspiration syndrome, lung lavage with diluted surfactant may be beneficial, but additional controlled clinical trials of lavage therapy should be conducted to confirm the treatment effect, to refine the method of lavage treatment, and to compare lavage treatment with other approaches, including surfactant bolus therapy. Long-term outcomes should be evaluated in further clinical trials.

Read the full abstract...

Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) can occur when a newborn infant inhales a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid into the lungs around the time of delivery. Other than supportive measures, little effective therapy is available. Lung lavage may be a potentially effective treatment for MAS by virtue of removing meconium from the airspaces and altering the natural course of the disease.


To evaluate the effects of lung lavage on morbidity and mortality in newborn infants with MAS.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library), MEDLINE, and EMBASE up to December 2012; previous reviews including cross-references, abstracts, and conference proceedings; and expert informants. We contacted authors directly to obtain additional data. We used the following subject headings and text words: meconium aspiration, pulmonary surfactants, fluorocarbons, bronchoalveolar lavage, lung lavage, pulmonary lavage.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials that evaluated the effects of lung lavage in infants with MAS, including those intubated for the purpose of lavage. Lung lavage was defined as any intervention in which fluid is instilled into the lung that is followed by an attempt to remove it by suctioning and/or postural drainage.

Data collection and analysis: 

The review authors extracted from the reports of the clinical trial, data regarding clinical outcomes, including mortality, requirement for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), pneumothorax, duration of mechanical ventilation and oxygen therapy, length of hospital stay, indices of pulmonary function, and adverse effects of lavage. Data analysis was done in accordance with the standards of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group.

Main results: 

Only four small randomised controlled trials fulfilled the selection criteria. For one of these trials, no data are available for the control group. Two studies compared lavage using diluted surfactant with standard care. Meta-analysis of these two studies did not show a significant effect on mortality (typical relative risk 0.42, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.12 to 1.46; typical risk difference -0.10, 95% CI -0.24 to 0.04) or the use of ECMO (typical relative risk 0.27, 95% CI 0.04 to 1.86; typical risk difference -0.15, 95% CI -0.35 to 0.04). For the composite outcome of death or use of ECMO, a significant effect favoured the lavage group (typical relative risk 0.33, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.96; typical risk difference -0.19, 95% CI -0.34 to -0.03; number needed to benefit [NNTB] 5). No other benefits were reported. The other published study compared surfactant lavage followed by a surfactant bolus with surfactant bolus therapy alone in MAS complicated by pulmonary hypertension. No significant improvements in mortality, pneumothorax, duration of mechanical ventilation. or duration of hospitalisation were observed.