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 more sticky than normal.

Above the blockage, the small intestine becomes enlarged. Loops of small intestine may distend, or push out, the baby's belly (abdomen). Below the blockage, the large intestine (colon) is narrow. It may be empty, or it may hold small pellets of dried meconium or plugs of mucus from the lining of the intestine.

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 one in five 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 blockage in their colon that may look like meconium ileus (a meconium plug), and they have small left colon syndrome. This means the last part of their colon is smaller than normal. The blockage can be washed out with an enema (as explained on the treatment page). The colon grows to normal size after the blockage is removed. This condition is more common in babies whose mothers have diabetes or gestational diabetes (which happens during pregnancy). Some babies with a meconium plug turn out to have Hirschprung's disease.

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.

When you come to Seattle Children's, you have a team of people to care for your child. Along with your child's surgeon, you are connected with nurses, dietitians, child life specialists and others. We work together to meet all of your child's health needs and help your family through this experience.

Since 1907, Seattle Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.