Baby Formula Lawsuit: NEC Symptoms to Be Aware of

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Picture of Researcher: Ariana Arce​

Researcher: Ariana Arce​

Picture of Journalist: Aaron Vivanco

Journalist: Aaron Vivanco

Picture of Editor: Daniela Polo

Editor: Daniela Polo

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Baby Formula Lawsuit: NEC Symptoms to Be Aware of

Parents all over the country are filing lawsuits under the claim that the cow-milk-based infant formula was the reason for their preterm babies to develop NEC, a severe illness that primarily affects the intestines. The grounds for their claims are scientific research, their own experience, and other medical evidence. 

Necrotizing Enterocolitis, also known as NEC, is ten times more likely to occur in preterm infants than in full-term babies. The reason appears to be the cow’s milk present in those formulas, particularly Enfamil and Similac. The claimants allege manufacturers didn’t warn them or the medical staff at the hospital about the risks of their product for their preterm babies. 

What Are the Most Common NEC Symptoms in Babies?

Since NEC is a disease in which the intestinal tissue dies, the complications are many and very serious. Commonly, the intestines are invaded by bacteria, causing infection and inflammation of the abdominal area.

The bacteria destroys the lining of the intestines, which increases the chances of stool spillage into the baby’s abdomen. Afterward, infection of the nearby organs is very likely, as well as the emergence of other types of symptoms or even death.

NEC typically occurs during the second or third week of the child’s life, affecting 10% of infants who weigh less than 1,500 grams, with a mortality rate of 50%, according to Medscape. And kids that are formula-fed are the most affected, in contrast to those exclusively breastfed. 

Although Necrotizing Enterocolitis symptoms may vary from baby to baby, the most frequent ones are: 

  • A bloated belly that could sometimes look red and/or tender.
  • Intolerance to feeding. 
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea or bloody stools. 
  • Lethargy.
  • An uncommonly low body temperature.
  • Greenish-yellow vomit.  
  • Stomach discoloration that could turn bluish or reddish. 
  • Temporary stop in breathing (apnea).
  • Pain if someone touches the abdomen.
  • A slow heart rate (also called bradycardia).

NEC symptoms in babies shouldn’t be ignored. If you suspect your preterm baby is experiencing them, call 911 right away and/or go to the ER, where a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis. 

How is NEC diagnosed? 

Usually, when a baby with NEC symptoms arrives at the hospital, the doctors make X-Rays to confirm there is an abnormal gas pattern in the wall of the intestine or outside that area (in the peritoneal cavity). On some occasions, the doctor may insert a needle into the baby’s abdomen to look for fluid leaking, since that could be a sign there is a hole in the intestines. 

Looking for blood in the baby’s stool is another way to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests are often performed to look for infection. In some cases, medical professionals could insert a tube through the nose and into the stomach to remove fluid and keep it empty. Sometimes, IV fluids must be supplied to keep the infant hydrated and nourished.

The treatment typically consists of administering three types of antibiotics for 10 days, to which many infants positively respond within 72 hours. After treatment, most babies survive, but on many opportunities, they experience further complications, such as intestine scarring, feeding difficulties, nutrient malabsorption, acute kidney failure, and/or short bowel syndrome. 

On certain occasions, bowel surgery is needed to remove necrotic tissue, which is risky for a preterm baby with weak defenses. After the surgical intervention, babies may need a ventilator to help them breathe. 

How do I File a Lawsuit if My Preterm Baby Had NEC caused by a Toxic Baby Formula?

As mentioned above, cow’s milk is not recommended for preterm infants. Nevertheless, a baby formulas such as Enfamil and Similac sold this type of food for years, suggesting it was innocuous and even healthy for both full-term and preterm babies. Parents report that Enfamil and Similac did not adequately warn them about the risks of NEC associated with their products.

More than a hundred families filed lawsuits as individual plaintiffs or as a part of an MDL (multi-district litigation). Right now, 12 bellwether cases are waiting to be selected and narrowed down to determine which cases will go to trial first. Since this is an early stage of the litigation, there hasn’t been settlements or verdicts for the NEC baby formula lawsuits. 

Although the amount of compensation can’t be calculated yet, there are speculative estimations that lawyers could do. For instance, these cases could be compared to the most recent malpractice NEC cases against doctors who prescribed it. The average amount awarded per plaintiff was $1.3 million, but it could be much higher for individual claims.

That being said, it is possible that most individual lawsuits converge into one big class-action lawsuit, which will lower the value of the compensation. Attorneys estimate a $300,000 to $800,000 range for each plaintiff, but the exact amount will depend on the specific circumstances of each case.

To get a better understanding of your options and what you may be able to expect, a consultation with an experienced NEC baby-formula lawyer becomes crucial. A mass-tort attorney could explain your options, help you collect the evidence and represent your interests. Contact us so we can help you.