Signs That Your Baby May Have NEC from Drinking Baby Formula

March 28, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Signs That Your Baby May Have NEC from Drinking Baby Formula

WARNING: Some Baby Formulas May Cause Deadly NEC in Infants 

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 who consumed their baby formulas. 

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 NEC symptoms to look for can help ensure a better life for your baby instead of life-long complications, overwhelming medical expenses, or even the loss of your child. 

What is Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)?

If something is described as “necrotizing,” it refers to the 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 damage and holes in the intestines. This creates an opportunity for dangerous bacteria to enter the stomach or blood via the damage, causing gastrointestinal infections.

Serious infections, especially in vulnerable people, can prove destructive through their symptoms alone. Fevers can lead to brain damage, necrosis can compromise organ function, and contagious infections can present a risk to others in close proximity.

What is NEC in Babies? 

Unfortunately, NEC often preys on the most vulnerable infants: those who are born prematurely or underweight. In the U.S. alone, out of approximately 480,000 premature babies per year, 9,000 premature babies are affected by NEC annually. This is usually because 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 rest 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 if they are unable to nurse or feed through their mouth.

Recognizing NEC Symptoms 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. You certainly shouldn't have to worry that the critical nutrition which is supposed to help them grow could harm them. That's why being able to recognize NEC symptoms is extremely important. NEC symptoms may vary from baby to baby and can be tricky for already over-tired parents to distinguish from more minor digestive issues. 

NEC symptoms may seem to materialize out of nowhere or come on over a period of a few weeks. Parents know what's normal for their children, so they are often a critical defense against NEC. If your child was fed baby formula, 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 have your infant examined by a medical professional if you suspect they may have NEC, especially if they were given baby formula at the hospital.

What are NEC Symptoms in Babies?

If your infant is exhibiting unusual behavior, such as a lack of energy and sluggish demeanor, or an aversion to feeding, this may be your first clue that something is wrong. Another obvious sign is stomach swelling and abdominal sensitivity to touch. In general, 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

If your baby has any of the above symptoms, combined with other symptoms like a fluctuating heart rate, fever, or uneven breathing, your senses should be on high alert. Fevers suggest infection and can be deadly in children under 3 months. 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 Can Baby Formula Lead to NEC in Infants?

While there are several ways a vulnerable infant may acquire NEC, few are so egregious as a baby formula company failing to place 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 premature babies' nutritional intake with formula, especially in cases where the mother is incapacitated from the delivery. Unfortunately, formulas like Similac and Enfamil use cow's milk-based formulas that have been linked to NEC in numerous studies. These products may 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 infant death.

Who is Liable for NEC Baby Formula Symptoms and Damages?

The companies that are responsible for the development, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of NEC-causing baby formula can potentially be held 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 helping people harmed by defective products by bringing legal action for years. We are now assisting those harmed by defective baby formula by filing lawsuits against companies such as these. 

Contact Dolman Law Group to Discuss Your Potential NEC Baby Formula Lawsuit

Nothing can ever compensate a parent for the loss of an infant. And if your child 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 may be 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 of an infant diagnosed with NEC after drinking baby formula, you may be eligible for damages in a product liability suit. You need a compassionate, dedicated NEC baby formula lawyer to fight for you during this difficult time so that you can begin rebuilding your life.

For a free consultation, give us a call any time at 866-481-5347. You can also reach out through our simple online contact form.

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.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

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 successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $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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