Does Similac Cause NEC?

November 4, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Does Similac Cause NEC? Formula has long been considered a viable nutritional option for infants whose mothers are unable to—or do not choose to—breastfeed, including infants who were born prematurely. However, a link has been established between a bovine-based formula and a dangerous and often deadly condition known as NEC. If your child was born premature and suffered NEC after doctors fed Similac or other bovine-based formulas such as Enfamil to your infant, you can seek compensation for the financial and psychological costs that your family incurred.

What Is Similac?

Similac is a manufactured food, known as formula, intended for infants under 12 months. Similac products are manufactured and sold by Abbott Laboratories. It makes different Similac formulas, including products containing probiotics, those for premature infants, and those designed for infants with sensitive stomachs.

What Is NEC?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious and sometimes fatal gastrointestinal condition that generally affects babies who are born before 37 weeks gestation, which are called premature babies. The condition causes the infant's intestinal tissue to become inflamed, and the tissues to even begin to die, creating a hole in the baby's intestine that allows bacteria to leak into the abdomen or bloodstream. For some infants, the condition is mild and resolves with time and treatment. However, for others, the condition can result in serious complications or even death. About 80 percent of the infants who develop this condition will survive, though many will have long-term health issues as a result. NEC typically occurs in infants who are three to six weeks old. Often, these infants will appear to be stable and doing well until the condition occurs.

The Symptoms of NEC

As mentioned, most NEC cases occur among premature infants, particularly those born at less than two pounds at birth. The symptoms of the condition include:
  • Loss of appetite or lack of weight gain
  • A swollen, red, or tender belly
  • Difficulty feeding, or food staying in the stomach longer than expected
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea or dark or bloody stools
  • Green vomit
  • A slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, or pauses in breathing (apnea)
  • A low or unstable body temperature
  • Lethargy

How Doctors Diagnose NEC

The presentation of one of the more common symptoms of NEC—a swollen belly—often causes health care providers to suspect the condition, at which point they will perform a complete physical exam on the infant, and can also use a few different types of tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests include:
  • Blood tests to search for signs of infection, such as bacteria appearing in the baby's blood.
  • Fecal tests, which examine the infant's feces to search for blood in the stool that is not always visible.
  • X-rays, which can reveal signs of NEC, such as air bubbles around the intestines or abdominal cavity that indicate a perforation.

How Doctors Treat NEC

Generally, infants with NEC will stop oral feedings and will begin receiving their nutrition through a tube that runs from the child's nose to their stomach, known as a nasogastric or NG tube. Additionally, babies suffering from NEC are also often provided with fluids and antibiotics through an IV. X-rays will often check the progress of the condition. If your child's abdomen is so swollen that they cannot breathe freely, doctors may administer oxygen. The infant will also be isolated to prevent them from acquiring additional bacteria or being exposed to viruses that would increase the likelihood of an infection.

NEC's Complications

As previously mentioned, several potentially fatal complications can arise when an infant develops NEC. Those complications include:
  • An abdominal infection, known as peritonitis, occurs when a perforated intestine allows bacteria to enter the abdominal cavity. Peritonitis increases the risk of developing sepsis, which is an often-fatal blood infection.
  • A narrowing of the intestines, known as intestinal strictures. This complication occurs in about a third of all infants diagnosed with NEC. While the strictures will often loosen in a matter of months, surgery could need to open up the intestine.
  • Short bowel (short gut) syndrome, which results from NEC destroying all or a significant part of the intestine. The condition makes it difficult for the infant's body to absorb the nutrients and fluids it needs to function. This condition often results in the child needing to feed through a tube.
  • Growth failure and developmental delays that result from a lack of nutrition while the infant's body systems develop and attempt to mature.

Does Similac Cause NEC?

Since the 1990s, studies have indicated that premature infants who receive formula are six to 10 times more likely to develop NEC than those who exclusively received breast milk, and about three times more likely to develop the condition than infants who receive a combination of breast milk and bovine-based formula. These findings led researchers from Johns Hopkins to suggest that the medical community move toward exclusively providing nutrition to premature babies weighing less than three pounds through breast milk, including donor milk. The causes of NEC may include:
  • An underdeveloped intestine
  • Not enough oxygen or blood flow to the intestine during birth or shortly after
  • Injury to the intestinal lining
  • Heavy growth of bacteria in the intestine that erode the intestinal wall
  • A bacterial infection of the intestine
  • Formula feeding, as bovine-based infant formulas—while being a cost-effective solution for hospitals treating premature infants—do not contain vital ingredients such as prebiotics and membranes that aid in the maturation of the infant's intestines and make them more able to tolerate the bovine-based formula.

Is Similac Being Sued?

Plaintiffs have filed wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits across the country, and our experienced product liability attorneys are happy to explain the process and provide guidance to parents from all 50 states whose children have suffered this often debilitating or deadly condition. Because thousands of young victims in the U.S. were injured by Abbott Laboratories' failure to protect consumers from unreasonable risks, these cases will likely become multi-district litigation (MDL). This is a lawsuit where cases involving factually similar claims against the same defendant temporarily join in the early phases of litigation to relieve the court's burden of so many similar cases. It also ensures fair gathering and use of information by the claimants.

What Do the Lawsuits Allege?

So far, lawsuits generally allege that Abbott Laboratories and other manufacturers of bovine-based infant formula knew for many years about the link between prematurity, bovine-based infant formula, and NEC, but failed to include complete information on the product's label to warn physicians or parents of this increased risk. They only stated that extremely low birth weight infants had an increased risk of “gastrointestinal complications” when fed the formula. The company did not offer consumers any information about how to avoid the risk of death associated with Similac. Additionally, the company made no move to voluntarily recall its products to prevent these known risks from occurring.

What Should You Do if Your Child Suffered NEC From Similac?

If your child suffered NEC after a premature birth and was fed bovine-based formula, you can seek compensation through a product liability claim against Abbott Laboratories or the other manufacturers of bovine-based formulas. You can obtain more information about this process through a no-cost, obligation-free case evaluation where we can answer the questions about your case and tell you more about the services we can provide to assist you with your claim.

How Lawyers Prove Liability in a Similac Lawsuit

Similac lawsuits are product liability claims. Product liability is a type of legal claim that falls under the wide umbrella of personal injury claims. Product liability refers to the responsibility of everyone in the manufacturing chain to ensure that products, when used according to labeled instructions, do not pose unreasonable risks to consumers. Product liability is strict liability, meaning you do not have to prove that your child's injuries were the result of the manufacturer's negligence, but only that an unreasonable risk existed and that risk was the cause of your child's injury. To show that the manufacturer or distributor of Similac was liable for your infant's injury, you must prove:
  • An injury or death occurred
  • The product was defective
  • The defect caused the child's injury or death
  • The product was used as directed on the packaging label

Damages You Can Recover in a Similac Lawsuit

Currently, no Similac lawsuits pertaining to NEC have settled or have gone to court yet, so we won't know what settlements or awards will come until after some bellwether cases. Bellwether trials involve litigating a few similar cases so that Similac claimants, their attorneys, and the defense and their attorneys can determine how the court will receive the evidence submitted and rule on the claim. This can then serve as a guide to determine how to best resolve additional claims. Individuals seeking compensation for the expenses and psychological impacts of their child's NEC diagnosis can seek to recover both economic and non-economic damages through a Similac lawsuit. In legal cases, the term “recovering damages” means obtaining compensation for harm. Economic damages refer to the compensation you can receive for the financial impact of the injury, while non-economic damages refer to compensation you receive for the psychological impacts your child has or will face as a result of the injury.
  • Past, current, and future medical expenses related to the condition and associated complications.
  • Physical pain and suffering.
  • Emotional distress.
If your child died of NEC after being born prematurely and fed Similac, you can seek compensation for the loss of your child's companionship and the reasonable cost of funeral services and burial or cremation.

Attorneys Want to Talk to You About Your Similac Case

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Matthew Dolman, Personal Injury Accident Lawyer
If your child suffered from NEC after a premature birth and doctors fed them a bovine-based infant formula such as Similac or Enfamil, experienced product liability attorneys want to talk to you about your case. Remember, there is no cost for learning more about obtaining compensation, and if you decide to hire a lawyer to help you with your claim, they can:
  • Establish a value to your claim based on the expenses and impacts your family suffered because of your child's injury.
  • Gather evidence and witness testimony to prove your claim in court.
  • Represent you at all court-required conferences and hearings.
  • Engage the defense in settlement negotiations to obtain a fair settlement offer on your behalf.
  • Collect your settlement or award.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 N Belcher Rd Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900


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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