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premature baby hand lying inside the incubator with oxygen mask

Premature babies are at a higher risk of experiencing health complications because their bodies haven’t fully developed. One of the most serious conditions is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a gastrointestinal disease that affects preemies. Cow’s milk baby formulas can put newborns at a higher risk of developing NEC. Parents are filing lawsuits against baby formula manufacturers for failing to warn that their products could increase the chance of an NEC diagnosis.

NEC has a mortality rate of up to 50%, and diagnosing the condition early on can improve the likelihood of a positive outcome. Parents of premature babies should be aware of necrotizing enterocolitis warning signs, especially those fed baby formula. NEC is rare, affecting only 1 in every 1,000 preemies, and doctors may not treat the disease enough to diagnose symptoms proactively.

What Is NEC?

Necrotizing enterocolitis is an inflammatory disease. When tissue in the large intestine gets inflamed, it begins to die — causing a hole in the intestine. From there, bacteria can spread from the intestine to elsewhere in the body. If left untreated, it can devolve into sepsis or peritonitis. In some cases, babies will need surgery to remove the dead parts of the intestine. Some children will have lifelong complications because of the condition.

The connection between baby formula and NEC isn’t fully understood, but studies have hypothesized that specific baby formulas can be toxic to intestinal cells. Additionally, human breast milk has antibodies that can help protect the baby’s immune system. One study found that NEC was six to ten times more likely in infants fed formula. Parents aren’t always made aware of this NEC risk. Hospital literature promises that preemie formula is as beneficial as human milk, and parents have no reason to question it. There are alternatives like human milk-based formula and donor breast milk, but many parents don’t know they should seek these options. 

NEC Warning Signs

Many newborn babies who develop NEC will get sick while in the hospital. It’s essential to know the symptoms of the disease to advocate for your child’s medical care if you suspect a serious problem. Here are a few signs to look out for.

  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • Bloody stools 
  • Trouble regulating temperature
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting green liquid
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low heart rate
  • Interruptions in breathing

A baby with these health problems could have a condition other than NEC, but they must be screened immediately. Medical professionals will conduct an abdominal X-ray, which will allow them to determine whether there’s bowel perforation. They may also collect stool samples and order blood tests to look for signs of infection. When NEC is detected, a preemie baby temporarily stops oral feedings and takes nutrition and antibiotics via an IV.

Given NEC’s high mortality rate, doctors must treat it quickly. Diagnosing the infection early reduces the risk of sepsis and other life-threatening complications. Unfortunately, even an early diagnosis isn’t a guarantee that a baby will recover fully from the condition. Long-term problems might include developmental delays, gastrointestinal issues, and failure to thrive (trouble maintaining a healthy weight). These children may need specialized care for the rest of their lives. 

NEC Baby Formula Lawsuits

Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson & Company make two of the most popular baby formula brands in the U.S., Similac and Enfamil. Both companies offer formulas tailored to the needs of premature babies. These specialized formulas are in hospitals around the country, but the manufacturers don’t include a warning label that cow’s milk-based formula increases the risk of NEC. Parents and guardians of children diagnosed with NEC have filed NEC baby formula lawsuits against the manufacturers, alleging that they knew or should have known about the danger. Lawsuits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) to streamline the processing of claims.

If your child has been diagnosed with NEC after ingesting baby formula, Childers, Schlueter & Smith can help. You may be eligible for compensation and must file your claim within the statute of limitations to qualify for financial relief. Contact us online or toll-free at 1-800-641-0098 to discuss your legal options. 

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