Why Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) a Nightmare for New Parents?

Studies show that 9,000 out of 480,000 premature babies develop Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). Approximately 15% to 40% of preterm infants succumb to this illness. 

Joanne Ferguson’s newborn, Guy, passed away due to NEC complications. She fought for her son’s survival but lost the battle. For many years, she believed she had failed him. However, she later realized that, for the sake of her son, she should raise awareness for this disease.  

As a soon-to-be parent, you must know about NEC to prepare for potential challenges. In this blog, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and types of NEC. It will help you get a deeper understanding of this condition. 

What Can Cause NEC in Babies?

You will find NEC symptoms in babies who are premature and very sick. However, any neonate can develop NEC if they do not receive proper nourishment. Babies weighing less than 3 pounds and 4 ounces are at a higher risk of developing NEC. 

Similarly, infants with weak immune systems, intestinal infections, and low oxygen levels at birth are more prone to developing NEC. However, this illness is rare among older or larger babies. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, NEC can cause gastrointestinal issues in premature and low-birth-weight babies. The baby’s intestinal tissues can become inflamed, and there is a risk of perforation, which can lead to bacterial growth. 

Recent studies have indicated an increased NEC risk in formula-fed infants during the first two weeks of their lives. According to TorHoerman Law, baby formula produced by brands such as Similac and Enfamil contain toxic bacteria, resulting in neonatal deaths. Consequently, the manufacturers such as Abbott and Mead Johnson have faced legal repercussions. 

Symptoms Associated With NEC

A mother from New Jersey found out about the side effects of Abbott Laboratory’s formula and sued them for her baby’s death. Another angered mother from Morris County filed a lawsuit against them for the death of her premature infant. 

However, no amount of financial compensation can fill the void of pain and suffering for these women. Expectant parents should be aware of the following signs and symptoms of NEC for immediate treatment: 

  • Discomfort in the abdomen with visible bloating or inflammation
  • Problems with oral feeding and irritability 
  • Green or yellow vomit, diarrhea, and bloody stools 
  • Blockage of food in the intestines, leading to constipation 
  • Slow heart rate, lethargy, and infant apnea 

Babies with NEC can develop various health complications. They include short bowel syndrome, abdominal infections, intestinal stricture, and developmental delays. 

4 Common Types of NEC

Usually, doctors classify NEC into four types: 

  1. Transfusion-associated: One out of three premature babies develop NEC from blood transfusion for anemia. 
  2. Atypical: In rare cases, infants can develop NEC within seven days of birth. 
  3. Classic: Infants born before 28 weeks of pregnancy may develop NEC within three to six weeks of life. 
  4. Term infant: In some cases, full-term babies can develop NEC due to underlying gastroschisis or congenital heart condition. 

There have been instances where a bacterial outbreak in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) led critically ill babies to develop NEC. 

How to Treat NEC?

Healthcare professionals will perform various tests if a neonate is suspected of having NEC symptoms. For instance, blood and fecal tests will determine any signs of bacteria or infection. 

Subsequently, an abdominal X-ray will show NEC signs like air bubbles in the abdominal cavity or intestine. These bubbles will indicate the extent of perforation or bowel damage in the baby. 

Once determined, the doctor will give you the best course of action. Ideally, the infant’s intestines will need time to heal and rest. Therefore, the doctor might stop oral or tube feedings and shift your baby to IV nutrients and fluids. 

In severe cases, babies need antibiotic injections to help fight the bacterial infection. Moreover, a nasogastric tube will help suction out the fluids and gas from the intestines. 

If none of these measures work, your baby might need surgery to remove the intestinal tissues or repair the hole. If your baby is too small for these procedures, the doctor will use a catheter to drain the infected fluids. 

The Way Forward

In January 2020, the heartbreaking story of Nailah shocked the entire nation. She passed away when she was two months old due to NEC. An investigation revealed that hospital officials suspected Nailah of lactose intolerance, which prompted them to switch from cow’s milk to formula. Tragically, this decision caused Nailah to develop a swollen intestine and die of septic shock. 

Similarly, Brianna Anthony had a premature delivery, and her daughter tragically lost her life to NEC after being given Similac. The stories of parents experiencing the devastating loss of their children to NEC seem endless. Although the exact causes of NEC are not fully understood, you can still take measures to prevent this illness. 

For instance, in cases where mothers are at risk of preterm birth, they can receive corticosteroid injections. These injections can help boost the fetus’s health and reduce the risk of lung and intestinal diseases. Additionally, studies have shown that mother’s milk can reduce the chance of NEC in premature babies.