Medical professionals often introduce formula to infants born prematurely to maintain proper growth rates and decrease developmental delays. Recent studies indicate that cow’s milk-based formulas, such as Enfamil and Similac, have been linked to premature infants developing a serious, life-threatening disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Unfortunately, the manufacturers of these formulas have yet to issue any recalls or place warning labels on their products.

What is NEC?

NEC is a serious disease that develops when the tissue in the large intestine becomes injured or inflamed, normally triggered by bacterial infection. Persistent inflammation could potentially destroy the lining of the intestine, causing bacteria to leak into the abdomen and/or bloodstream. Surgery to remove the damaged intestine, an ostomy procedure, or draining of the abdominal cavity may be necessary after the onset of NEC. These surgeries and hospitalizations can become very expensive, causing a huge burden on families. If immediate treatment is not provided, a devastating infection or possible death could occur.

What are Symptoms of NEC?

  • Abdominal discoloration or swelling
  • Apnea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Digestive issues
  • Vomiting, particularly green vomit containing bile
  • Hypotension
  • Lethargic
  • Low or unstable body temperature
  • Poor feeding

Who is at Risk and What are the Causes?

NEC is the most common cause of gastrointestinal-related morbidity and mortality in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). According to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, NEC affects between one and five percent of all NICU admissions. The onset of NEC is sudden, and the most premature infants are vulnerable due to their under-developed immune systems. While NEC can develop in all newborns, up to 80 percent of cases involve premature babies.

While there are many factors that may contribute to the development of NEC, to date, the most consistent risk factors remain prematurity and formula feeding. It has been established that premature infants fed formula are more likely to develop NEC than those who are fed mother’s milk, human donor milk, or non-cow milk-based formulas. Studies conducted throughout the United States over the past decade have been able to confirm these findings.

Human breast milk, unlike formula, contains growth factors and other substances that help fight infection and support intestinal cell maturation. Recent studies have even indicated that breast milk can protect from NEC; however, the exact mechanism is still unknown.

Who Can be Held Liable?

Despite the knowledge that their products pose a life-threatening risk to premature babies, many companies behind popular infant formula do not list the potential risks and health hazards on their products. Currently, Abbott Laboratories (Similac) and Mead Johnson and Company (Enfamil), are being sued by families who have had premature babies affected by NEC after ingesting their formulas.

If your baby developed NEC after consuming Similac, Enfamil, or another cow milk-based formula, contact a West Virginia personal injury attorney at Manchin Injury Law Group. We are currently reviewing cases and are dedicated to getting you the compensation you deserve. Contact us online or call us at (304) 367-1862.

Attorney Timothy Manchin established the Manchin Injury Law Group in 2011 after his law partner of more than 25 years became a West Virginia circuit court judge. His focus is on helping individual clients and entire families victimized by negligent acts.

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