Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

by Elizabeth A. Kaveny

The neonatal intensive care unit in any hospital across the county is a place where sadness and despair can often outweigh hopes and prayers. Unfortunately, many premature infants are becoming seriously ill or can reach the level of death, because parents are unaware of a little-known fact about their newborn. Premature infants, who are fed Similac or Enfamil formulas while in the neonatal intensive care unit, are developing Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) at an alarming rate. For decades, cow’s milk-based formulas have been associated with a higher risk of NEC in premature babies when compared to breast milk.

Human breast milk is nature’s purest form of nutrition. Yet, for some mothers, human breast milk is not a viable option for their child’s nutrition. Similarly, there are mothers that prefer and choose not to breastfeed. In those circumstances, mothers will rely on manufactured formulas to supplement or replace breast milk.

Mothers and fathers will turn to manufactured formulas with the goal of assisting the child’s development and growth in the same way as human breast milk.  Unfortunately, for infants born prematurely, manufactured cow’s milk formulas are not promoting growth and development. Conversely, they are causing NEC.

What is NEC? NEC results from the inflammation of the small intestine or colon that ultimately causes tissue to die. NEC begins with tiny hole like perforations in the infant’s digestive track. This, in turn, will cause bacteria to leak into the infant’s blood stream or abdomen. Premature infants that survive NEC are typically faced with long term injuries and/or developmental delays.

The evidence linking cow’s milk formula and NEC in premature infants has been thoroughly researched and several clinical studies have been produced. For example, in 2011, a surgeon general noted the higher rates of necrotizing enterocolitis for vulnerable premature infants when using cow’s milk-based formulas. The next year, the American Academy of Pediatrics similarly recognized “all preterm infants should be fed the mother’s milk or if their mother’s milk is unavailable, pasteurized human donor milk.”

Yet, despite these and several other harsh warnings, Abbott and Mead continued to market and sell the cow’s milk formula as a formula for premature infants. For decades, these companies have been on notice of the increased risk of NEC in premature infants and its association with cow’s milk formulas. Yet, the companies have ignored these warnings and failed to change their labels to warn hospitals, doctors and families of this increased risk.

If you believe your child has suffered NEC resulting in injury or death after being fed a cow’s milk formula, a Kaveny + Kroll trial attorney can help assist you with a claim.  Your family may be entitled to compensation for economic and non-economic damages related to your child’s injuries or tragic death. Contact an infant safety lawyer at Kaveny + Kroll as soon as possible for a free initial case evaluation.