What Causes NEC?
While the direct source of NEC cases is inconsistent and can vary by child, there are several recurring factors that healthcare experts have identified:
- Feeding with bovine-based (cow’s milk) formula
- Insufficient blood flow to the intestines after birth
- Underdeveloped intestine
- Intestinal injury
- Viral or bacterial infection of the intestines
There have also been a few instances of NEC appearing in several infants in the same neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at once. Necrotizing enterocolitis itself is not contagious, so this could indicate that premature babies on the same toxic baby formula in the NICU could be contracting the disease at the same time. These cases are few and far between, but it could potentially be an indicator of toxic baby formula in a specific NICU.
Symptoms of NEC
The condition’s danger can range from mild to fatal, and you must recognize the following symptoms if you believe your child is at risk:
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
- Changes in body temperature and breathing
- Diarrhea with bloody stool
- Green or yellow vomit
- Refusal to eat and lack of weight gain
Healthcare providers can diagnose NEC through tests checking for a swollen belly, blood tests, fecal tests, and x-rays.
How Dangerous is NEC?
Necrotizing enterocolitis is a disease that can have fatal consequences if left untreated. Babies that weigh 5.5 lbs and up can face mortality rates up to 20%. Smaller infants fare even worse. Among babies 3.3 lbs and lower, the mortality rate can reach 50%. It is a condition that needs immediate treatment. However, current treatments for NEC are effective, and most treated babies fully recover without suffering lasting damage.
Can I Prevent NEC?
In some hospitals, the NICU may recommend feeding your premature infant bovine-based formulas. If they do, be sure to ask about the risks associated with NEC. If NEC is a threat, request a formula not made from cow’s milk, and ask for a full review of your child’s nutrition plan.
If feasible, stop feeding your baby bovine-based formula in favor of breastfeeding. Doing so can significantly increase your chances of avoiding NEC. The CDC recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for 6 months after birth. Statistically, doing this is difficult, but it can prove beneficial for your child in the future. Other benefits of breastfeeding include providing growth hormones, immune system boosts, and lower blood pressure in infants.
Another alternative healthcare providers may offer is to improve your child’s immune system through corticosteroid injections before birth. The injection improves an unborn child’s health and may reduce the risk of contracting lung and intestinal issues. Be sure to ask your doctor if either of these courses of action could be suitable for you and your circumstances.