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How Cow-Milk-Based Baby Formula Increases the Risk of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in Premature Infants: A Guide for Parents & Caregivers

As a parent, there is no greater joy than welcoming a new baby into the world. However, when a child is born prematurely, it can be a stressful and uncertain time. Preemies often require special medical care, including the supplementation of baby formula to help with their health and development. Unfortunately, many cow’s-milk-based baby formulas available to Kansas City parents are linked to causing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature infants. 

Parents and caregivers of premature infants need to understand the risks associated with cow’s-milk based formula because it can significantly impact the health and well-being of their newborn. Preemies have immature digestive systems and are more susceptible to intestinal infections, such as NEC, which can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated quickly. By understanding the risks, parents and caregivers can make informed decisions about how to feed their premature infants and significantly improve treatment outcomes.  

What is Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

NEC is a serious medical condition in premature infants. It is a disease that causes inflammation and death of intestinal tissue, which can lead to life-threatening complications. 

History of Cow’s Milk in US Baby Formula

The history of bovine milk in baby formula in the U.S. dates to the early 1900s. Before this time, infant feeding was largely based on breastfeeding or homemade formulas made from various ingredients such as cow’s milk, cream, sugar, and water. However, these homemade formulas were often inconsistent in their nutrient content and could be contaminated with harmful bacteria. 

In 1865, the first commercial infant formula, known as “Liebig’s Soluble Food for Babies,” was introduced in Europe. This formula was made from cow’s milk, wheat and malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate, and was intended to be a substitute for breast milk. In the United States, the first commercial infant formula was introduced in 1921 by Mead Johnson, a pharmaceutical company. The formula, called “DEXTRI-MALTOSE,” was made from cow’s milk, maltodextrin, and corn syrup. However, this formula was not well received by the public due to its high cost and questionable safety. 

In 1929, the first successful commercial infant formula was introduced by Mead Johnson. Known as “Enfamil,” this formula was made from cow’s milk that had been modified to mimic the composition of breast milk. It was a significant improvement over previous formulas and quickly gained popularity among parents who were unable or unwilling to breastfeed. 

Today, bovine milk is not recommended for premature infants because it contains higher amounts of protein and minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, which can be difficult to digest. Cow’s milk also lacks certain types of fats and proteins that are critical for preemie growth and development. 

How Common is NEC In Premature Babies?

According to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016, the incidence of NEC in preemies who received formula was 8-10%, compared to 2-4% in those who are fed only breast milk. Another study published in the same journal in 2020 concluded that formula use was associated with higher risks for severe NEC in very low birth weight infants. 

What NEC Symptoms Should Parents and Caregivers Look For?

When it comes to NEC, early detection and treatment are crucial for a successful outcome. Some of the symptoms of NEC in premature babies may include:

  1. Feeding intolerance: Infants with NEC may have difficulty tolerating feedings and may experience vomiting or other signs of feeding intolerance.
  2. Abdominal distension: The infant’s abdomen may become swollen and distended and may feel firm to the touch.
  3. Bloody stools: Infants with NEC may pass stools that contain blood or mucus.
  4. Apnea or bradycardia: NEC can cause breathing problems, and the infant may experience apnea (pauses in breathing) or bradycardia (a slow heart rate).
  5. Lethargy: Infants with NEC may be lethargic or unresponsive and may not show interest in feeding or interacting with their caregivers.
  6. Temperature instability: NEC can cause fluctuations in the infant’s body temperature, and the infant may become either hypothermic or hyperthermic.

How is NEC Treated and What is the Prognosis?

The treatment for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature infants depends on the severity of the condition and the infant’s overall health status. Mild cases of NEC may be managed with conservative treatment measures, while severe cases may require surgical intervention. Some of the treatment options for NEC may include:

  1. Stopping feedings: In many cases, the infant’s feedings will be stopped to allow the intestinal tract to rest and heal.
  2. Intravenous fluids: The infant may receive fluids and electrolytes intravenously to help maintain their hydration and nutrition.
  3. Antibiotics: Infants with NEC may receive antibiotics to treat or prevent infection.
  4. Monitoring: The infant’s vital signs, blood counts, and electrolyte levels will be closely monitored to detect any changes in their condition.
  5. Surgery: In severe cases of NEC, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged or dead tissue from the intestine.

NEC treatment can be complex and may require a multidisciplinary approach involving neonatologists, pediatric surgeons, and other healthcare professionals. The overall goal of treatment is to restore the infant’s intestinal function and prevent further damage to the intestinal tract. With early detection and prompt treatment, many infants with NEC can recover and go on to lead healthy lives.

The prognosis for infants with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) depends on the severity of the condition and how quickly it is diagnosed and treated. Mild cases of NEC may resolve with conservative treatment measures, while severe cases can be life-threatening and require surgical intervention.

Infants who require surgery for NEC may have a higher risk of complications, including short bowel syndrome, which can affect their ability to absorb nutrients and may require ongoing medical management. In some cases, infants may require long-term follow-up care and ongoing medical treatment to manage the long-term effects of NEC.

The mortality rate for infants with NEC also varies depending on the severity of the condition, but it is estimated to be between 10-30%. Infants who survive NEC may have an increased risk of developmental delays and other health problems later in life. 

What Are the Possible Legal Remedies for NEC Caused by Cow-Milk-Based Formula?

While the use of formula-containing bovine ingredients has been associated with NEC in some cases, it is important to note that not all cases are caused by formula and that the condition can have multiple causes.  In general, legal remedies for NEC in infants against formula companies with bovine ingredients depends on the specific circumstances of each case. If it can be proven that the formula was defective, contaminated or otherwise caused harm to the infant, there may be legal options available to seek compensation for your damages. In Kansas and Missouri, if you believe your child has suffered harm because of bad formula, you may have a product liability lawsuit against the formula company or manufacturer for producing toxic baby formulas. There have been many lawsuits filed by parents of premature infants suffering from NEC arguing that the parent companies, Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson, knew or should have known about the potential risks associated with their products, specifically the component of cow’s milk, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known to cause NEC, sepsis, failure to thrive and other dangers to premature infants. Advocates for bad formula victims also argue that these formulas were marketed as a safe and beneficial form of nutrition and sustenance for premature babies, despite overwhelming evidence of the links to NEC. Further, advocates complain that these companies failed to learn more about the potential dangers of their products and negligently failed to warn the public, despite warnings from influential medical experts. 

What Damages Can Be Awarded in Toxic Baby Formula Lawsuits?

If a baby formula company is found liable for causing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in your child, there may be damages awarded in a lawsuit. Common types of compensation or damages awarded in baby formula lawsuits include:

  1. Medical expenses: The cost of medical treatment for NEC can be significant, including hospitalization, surgery, and ongoing medical management. Damages may be awarded to cover these expenses.
  2. Pain and suffering: Infants with NEC may experience significant pain and suffering as a result of their condition. Damages may be awarded to compensate the infant and their family for the physical and emotional toll of the condition.
  3. Lost income: If the infant’s parents are unable to work due to caring for their child with NEC, they may be entitled to damages for lost income.
  4. Future medical expenses: Infants with NEC may require ongoing medical treatment and management, including long-term care for complications such as short bowel syndrome. Damages may be awarded to cover these future expenses.
  5. Wrongful death: In cases where an infant dies as a result of NEC, damages may be awarded for wrongful death.

The specific damages awarded will depend on the individual circumstances of the case. A skilled attorney can help you evaluate the potential damages associated with your case and help you pursue the compensation you deserve. 

What Are the Qualifications to File an NEC Baby Formula Lawsuit?

To be eligible to join a Similac or Enfamil formula lawsuit, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. Your child must have been born prematurely;
  2. Your premature infant must have received Similac or Enfamil while in the hospital; and
  3. Your premature infant must have been diagnosed with NEC, sepsis, meningitis, bowel amputation, bacterial infection, bloody stool, abnormal bleeding, shortness of breath, fatigue, salmonella or death. 

Kansas City NEC Bad Formula Lawsuit Attorneys

If you are a parent in Kansas or Missouri whose premature child has been diagnosed with NEC or has tragically died from this devastating condition, it is important to know that you have legal options available to you. Kendall Law Group LLC, based in Kansas City, Missouri, has been helping individuals and families put their lives back together after serious injury for decades and can help you seek justice and compensation for your child’s injuries or loss. 

There are specific time requirements for filing a bad formula lawsuit. Do not wait, take action and reach out to Kendall Law Group LLC for a free consultation and to learn how we can help you through this difficult time. (816) 531-3100

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