Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Meconium Ileus

What is meconium ileus?

Meconium ileus (pronounced meh-COE-nee-um ILL-ee-us) means that a baby’s first stool (feces), called meconium, is blocking the last part of the baby’s small intestine (ileum). This can happen when the meconium is thicker and stickier than normal.

Above the blockage, the small intestine becomes enlarged as it fills with everything the baby swallows. Loops of small intestine may push out (distend) the baby’s belly (abdomen). Below the blockage, the large intestine (colon) is smaller than normal. It may be empty, or it may hold small pellets of dried meconium or plugs of mucus from the lining of the intestine.

In most cases, doctors suspect meconium ileus based on signs and symptoms in the first several hours or days after birth.

Meconium Ileus in Children

Almost all babies with meconium ileus have cystic fibrosis (CF). CF makes certain fluids and mucus in the body thicker than normal. This increases the chance that meconium will get stuck in the ileum. About 1 in 5 babies with CF is born with meconium ileus.

Some babies with meconium ileus have other problems with their intestines, like a hole in the intestine (perforation).

Some babies have a similar blockage in their colon (large intestine) called a meconium plug. A meconium plug is different from meconium ileus. A meconium plug may happen in babies who have small left colon syndrome. This means the last part of their colon is smaller than normal. Small left colon syndrome happens more often in babies whose mothers have diabetes or gestational diabetes (diabetes that happens during pregnancy). Some babies with a meconium plug turn out to have Hirschsprung disease.

The blockage of meconium ileus or meconium plug can be washed out with an enema (as explained on the treatment page). If the baby’s intestine is smaller than normal at birth, it grows to normal size after the blockage is removed.

Meconium Ileus at Seattle Children’s

We have treated many babies with meconium ileus at Seattle Children’s.

Sometimes doctors can treat meconium ileus without surgery, but most babies will need surgery. Our surgeons are experienced at selecting the best way to treat each baby and at doing the surgeries children need to clear the blockage in their intestine. We also have experience dealing with other problems that may look like meconium ileus, such as meconium plug and small left colon syndrome.

If doctors find a blocked intestine on an ultrasound before your baby is born, the team from our Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment Program can monitor your baby’s condition and plan for the care your baby may need after birth.

Read more about expert treatment for meconium ileus at Seattle Children’s.

Contact Us

If you have questions about meconium ileus treatment, call our General and Thoracic Surgery Department at 206-987-2794, extension 4.