Necrotizing Enterocolitis In Newborns: Causes, Symptoms, and How a Lawyer Can Help

By Osborne & Francis
October 25, 2023

Necrotizing enterocolitis in newborn babies is a dangerous, painful condition for your child. Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a gastrointestinal issue that predominantly affects premature babies, and it could be fatal if not diagnosed and treated quickly.

The team at Osborne & Francis have put together the following information on the symptoms NEC newborns present, and what the treatment should entail. We’ll also detail how a lawyer can help you access support funds, and possibly save other infants from experiencing this condition.

What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis is an inflammation of the small and/or large intestine that causes crucial portions of the digestive tract to die. If a hole forms in the intestinal wall, gut bacteria can leak into the abdomen or bloodstream, causing infection. NEC most often occurs in premature babies (born before 37 weeks gestation), and develops between 2-6 weeks after birth.

Data shows that NEC affects 5-12% of very-low-birth-weight infants, and 20-40% of the time leads to surgery. NEC is fatal in 25-50% of cases. For children who survive, they will likely have lifelong digestive issues and complications.

Midwife preparing baby bottle for the newborn

What Causes Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Unfortunately, doctors cannot pinpoint an exact cause of necrotizing enterocolitis. However, studies indicate that fortified and cow’s milk-based infant formulas lead to a higher incidence of NEC in preterm infants than does mother’s milk. Roughly 80% of baby formulas are cow’s milk-based. That includes formula brands that were specifically designed for premature infants, like Similac and Enfamil.

Potential contributors to the development of NEC include:

  • Consuming fortified or cow’s-milk baby formula
  • Being fed through a tube in the stomach (enteral nutrition)
  • Underdeveloped intestines due to premature birth
  • Insufficient blood flow or oxygen supply
  • Heavy bacterial growth or infection
  • Intestinal injury

While NEC cannot spread from infant to infant, sometimes NEC “clusters” occur in nurseries, meaning several infants are experiencing the condition at the same time. This is because approximately 1 in 1,000 premature babies develop NEC, as opposed to 1 in 10,000 full-term babies.

Dry formula powder is being scooped into a baby bottle to feed a newborn infant.

What Necrotizing Enterocolitis Symptoms Should You Look For?

Birth injuries and the dangers associated with the early weeks of life must be guarded against. Monitoring for the signs of necrotizing enterocolitis is part of that care for premature infants. Symptoms of NEC or other intestinal issues in infants can show via symptoms like:

  • Abdominal swelling or pain
  • Change in the blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, or breathing of the child
  • Bloody stool or diarrhea
  • Yellow or green vomit
  • Refusing to eat or lack of weight gain
  • Lack of energy (lethargy)

To diagnose the child, doctors may run blood or fecal tests, as well as take an X-ray image of the infant’s bowel area. Treatment may involve antibiotics (to prevent sepsis), use of a nasogastric tube to remove gas or fluids from the child’s stomach, or surgery to remove damaged tissue and repair the hole (perforation) in the intestinal wall.

Who Is Responsible for Babies Getting NEC Disease?

We at Osborne & Francis want you to understand that your doctors and nurses are not at fault for feeding your child Enfamil, Similac, or other baby formulas designed for premature infants. The issue is with the manufacturers of these defective products, who failed to properly label their formulas and warn of potential harm.

Premature infants are often monitored closely for known problems that affect them in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). This includes a "NEC watch" to make sure the condition doesn’t have time to progress before treatment begins. However, if medical staff failed to diagnose and provide timely treatment for your child, that may be a case of medical malpractice.

If you have questions about your child’s situation, call the offices of Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600 for a free, professional evaluation.

Your choice to begin a legal action could help save the lives of future infants.

How Can a NEC Lawsuit Help You?

You have the right to file a lawsuit against the manufacturers of potentially harmful formulas. Those who produce an unsafe product for a hospital’s most vulnerable patients - premature babies - need to be held accountable.A settlement or damages award could include financial support for:

  • Medical bills for hospital stays, treatment, recovery, and potentially lifelong care for the injured child
  • Lost income for parents who must take time off work or lose employment opportunities in order to care for their baby
  • Loss of future income and opportunities for the child once they grow into adulthood, as well as a loss of enjoyment/quality of life if they must live with a chronic medical condition
  • Pain and suffering experienced by your child and your family during this traumatic time
  • Punitive damages meant to punish the wrongdoers and encourage better behavior by taxing them economically
  • Wrongful death costs in cases where necrotizing enterocolitis is fatal

Your choice to begin a legal action by contacting Osborne & Francis can help your family directly, and may also help change the practices of formula manufacturers. A change in the industry could help save the lives of future babies.

How to Reach Osborne & Francis for NEC Legal Advice

It is vital that babies born prematurely are provided with the utmost care and support. With proper treatment and nutrition, premature infants can grow up as healthy and strong as full-term children. Formulas that increases the risk of a devastating and potentially fatal intestinal disorder like necrotizing enterocolitis is unacceptable. Pursuing a legal case can help make that clear.

Your priority is the health of your child and family. It’s a lawyer’s job to file and follow through on a legal action. Call Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free, confidential consultation. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we can take on the work to seek the support you deserve.

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