Signs That Your Baby May Have NEC from Drinking Baby Formula

February 25, 2022
Signs That Your Baby May Have NEC from Drinking Baby Formula

Some Baby Formulas Cause A Destructive Gastrointestinal Condition 

Recently, baby formula brands Similac and Enfamil have captured headlines for all the wrong reasons. Both brands are being accused of failing to warn consumers and doctors of the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in infants.  Parents of sick, suffering, and deceased infants are filing lawsuits against the makers of Similac and Enfamil, but in some cases justice has come too late. Knowing the signs of NEC can ensure a long life for your baby, instead of a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf. 

What is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

If something is described as “necrotizing”, it refers to that thing's ability or tendency to kill living tissue. “Enterocolitis” is a condition where inflammation happens in parts of the digestive system, like the intestines and colon.  The combination of these concepts creates a dangerous medical condition known as necrotizing enterocolitis, which can lead to holes in the intestines. This creates an opportunity for dangerous bacteria to enter the stomach or blood via the hole, manifesting in gastrointestinal infections. Serious infections, especially in vulnerable populations, can prove destructive through their symptoms alone; fevers can lead to brain damage, necrosis can compromise organ function, and present a risk to others in close proximity.

Risk Factors for Necrotizing Enterocolitis 

Unfortunately, NEC often preys on the most vulnerable infants: those who are born prematurely or underweight. For the U.S. alone, that translates to 9,000 in 480,000 premature babies each year. The logic is that smaller and pre-term babies haven't had the chance to develop a more substantial intestinal lining to protect themselves. Birth-related trauma and existing infections can also contribute to the likelihood of developing NEC. 

When Are Infants at Risk for NEC?

If a baby has experienced compromised oxygen levels, the body kicks into triage mode and diverts oxygen that would have otherwise gone to the intestines to more critical functions. The reduced oxygen supply can hinder the development of the intestines, creating the prime opportunity for NEC to set in.  For obvious reasons, an existing intestinal infection can be compounded by NEC; the bacteria infecting the intestine can travel outside of the holes created by the NEC and reach the reach of the body. NEC most commonly occurs in the infant's first days or weeks of life. This coincides with when they would be most likely to be receiving baby formula in the hospital. The formula is usually administered through a feeding tube in their stomachs.

Recognizing the Signs of NEC in Your Infant

If you're a parent of a premature baby, you're likely already stressed because your baby entered the world sooner than planned, and now the critical nutrition that was supposed to help them grow could prove fatal. That's why knowing the symptoms of NEC prior to birth can be beneficial; symptoms may vary in each case and can be tricky for already over-tired parents to distinguish from more minor digestive issues.  Symptoms may seem to materialize out of nowhere or come on over a period of time. Parents know what's normal for their children, so they are often a critical defense against NEC. If your child was fed baby formula at the hospital, keep an extra close eye out for the common symptoms of NEC to catch it early.  The potential severity of NEC cannot be understated; it is best to be overly cautious and get your infant checked out by a medical professional if you suspect they may have NEC, especially if they were given baby formula at the hospital. Stanford's Packard Children's Hospital cites the following symptoms as concerning signs that can be related to NEC.

Symptoms of NEC in Infants

If your infant is exhibiting unusual behavior, like a lack of energy and sluggish demeanor, or an aversion to feeding, this may be your first clue that something is amiss. Another obvious sign is the swelling of the stomach or sensitivity to being probed on the belly; swelling is often associated with inflammation and infection. Internally, it's no different. Additionally, changes in bodily fluids, such as bloody feces and green vomit can be indicators of digestive issues. New parents may still be adjusting to all the fluids that a baby emits, but blood in the stool is never normal; and while babies often spit up, green regurgitation is actually bile which can signal a block in the intestines. 

Signs of Infection, Irregular Rhythms, or Respiratory Distress Can Indicate NEC

Combined with any other symptoms like a fluctuating heart rate, fever, or uneven breathing your senses should be on high alert. Fevers suggest an infection and can be deadly in children under 3 months, so if your baby's rectal temperature is over 100.4° F it's time to call the doctor. Heart rate can be measured at home; grab your phone or a stopwatch, place two fingers on the baby's inner upper arm, and count the pulses you feel in 15 seconds. Babies have a tendency to squirm, so instead of measuring for the full minute, just multiply the number you get by 4; a normal range for newborns is 90 to 170 bpm, and you know best where your baby typically falls in this range.

How Does NEC Develop After an Infant Consumes Baby Formula?

While there are several ways a vulnerable infant may acquire NEC, few are so egregious as a baby formula company failing to provide a warning on what is supposed to be a life-sustaining product. After a premature delivery, mothers may still be physically recovering, potentially leaving them to depend on others to use enteral feeding methods to give their infant formula.  It's common practice to supplement these premature babies' nutritional intake with formula, especially in cases where the mother is incapacitated from the delivery. Unfortunately, formulas that have been linked to NEC can be administered at the hospital (or later at home), putting the baby at a heightened risk for developing NEC.  Regrettably, there are cases of medical malpractice resulting in NEC; however, the vast majority of doctors and nurses are dedicated to protecting the infants under their care and do their best to prevent and detect NEC. Regardless, when NEC goes undetected, it can evolve into a deadly infection that an infant's fledgling immune systems may prove incapable of fighting off, resulting in serious complications, lifelong deficits, or even death.

Who is Liable for NEC Caused by Baby Formula?

The companies that are responsible for the development, manufacturing, distribution, and retail of NEC-causing baby formula can potentially be considered liable for the damages their product causes.  The damages caused by NEC are typically severe and parents of children harmed this way have the right to seek rightful legal compensation from companies like Abbott and Mead Johnson through a product liability claim. Dolman Law Group has been assisting those harmed by defective products with legal action for years and is now assisting those harmed by defective baby formula with filing lawsuits against companies such as these. 

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your NEC Lawsuit

Nothing can ever compensate for the loss of an infant. And if your baby survives a battle with NEC, they may still suffer from lifetime complications. You may find yourself overwhelmed by funeral costs and medical bills, or scrambling to provide for your child's future medical care. Meanwhile, you're trying to grieve the loss of your child, fend off medical debt collectors, and deal with the pain and suffering that accompany such a stressful situation. If you're the parent or caregiver of an infant impacted by NEC developed after drinking baby formula, you may be eligible for damages in a product liability suit. You need a compassionate, dedicated lawyer to fight for you during this tragedy so that you can begin rebuilding your life. Give us a call any time at (727) 451-6900. You can also send us an email on our contact us page. The Dolman Law Group works with local counsel in any jurisdiction outside Florida for the purpose of filing lawsuits in jurisdictions wherein we are not licensed. Thus, we will follow each State's ethical rules to ensure a local attorney is involved. https://www.dolmanlaw.com/nec-baby-formula-lawsuit/

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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