The preterm birth rate in the United States is one of the worst in the developed world: every year, one in 10 babies is born prematurely. Preterm infants sometimes struggle with complicated medical issues and are at higher risk for short-term and long-term health problems. One medical condition that affects some preterm babies is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious gastrointestinal problem that can have long-term consequences. NEC affects one in 1,000 premature babies and is a common problem among infants in neonatal intensive care units.
How Does Necrotizing Enterocolitis Affect Preterm Babies?
NEC inflames a preterm baby’s intestinal tissue and can cause a hole to form in the intestine – bacteria can then leak into the abdomen or bloodstream through this hole. Some preterm infants with NEC experience serious, life-threatening complications, including:
- Abdominal infection
- Short bowel syndrome, a condition that makes it hard for the body to absorb fluids and nutrients
- Developmental delays
Necrotizing enterocolitis has a mortality rate ranging from 10 to more than 50 percent.
What are the Types of NEC?
There are different types of NEC. The classifications are based on when the symptoms start and the cause of the condition. The different types include:
- Atypical: This rare type occurs when an infant develops NEC in the first week of life or before the first feeding.
- Classic: This most common type tends to affect infants born before 28 weeks of pregnancy and occurs three to six weeks after birth. The baby is stable and well at first, then the conditions come on without warning.
- Term Infant: Full-term babies who get NEC usually have a birth defect. Possible causes include a congenital heart condition, gastroschisis (intestines that form outside the body), and low oxygen levels at birth.
NEC outbreaks can happen in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), though very rarely. Bacteria or other germs may cause these uncommon outbreaks.
Is There a Connection Between Baby Formula and NEC?
Premature infants have weaker digestive and immune systems, making it harder for them to fight off intestinal infections. Human breast milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk-based baby formula, can help babies fight off infections, and is associated with a reduction in the occurrence of NEC in preterm infants. Studies have shown that human breast milk is a protective factor in the development of NEC. Conversely, preterm infants who are fed cow’s milk-based formula are more likely to develop NEC than those who are fed human breast milk. Babies with NEC may develop serious health conditions; in the most severe cases, preterm babies with NEC have died.
How Are Victims’ Families Seeking Justice?
More than 30 baby formula lawsuits claiming cow’s milk-based products have caused NEC in preterm infants have been filed in Illinois state courts against Enfamil and Similac, two popular manufacturers of baby formula. Plaintiffs claim their premature babies were fed either Similac or Enfamil products while in hospital and subsequently developed necrotizing enterocolitis. Several of the plaintiffs said their babies died from the condition. The baby formula lawsuits claim the manufacturers didn’t respond to research that has drawn a connection between cow’s milk-based formula products and NEC. The plaintiffs claim the formula makers should have either reformulated the products or warned consumers about the risks associated with them.
How We Help NEC Victims’ Families
Seek justice with the help of our experienced baby formula attorneys. Based in Dallas, Texas, our law ﬁrm has battled multinational corporations for 20 years, ﬁghting to hold them responsible for birth defects and personal injuries caused by dangerous products. If you have a child who has suffered from NEC or other birth defects due to dangerous products, we can help.