Formula is a smart, nutritionally sound choice for parents in Hawaii who choose not to or are unable to breastfeed their children. There are many benefits to using formula, including eliminating the need for working moms to pump and making it easier for family and friends to help feed a new baby.
Unfortunately, there are rare risks associated with formula use. Newborn infants are susceptible to a gastrointestinal disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
Risk Factors for Necrotizing Enterocolitis
NEC most commonly affects newborn infants. Infants who are premature and those who are suffering from illnesses that require hospitalization face higher rates of NEC than full-term babies. A baby is considered to be born premature when it is born before 37 weeks.
A premature infant who is hospitalized is most likely to develop symptoms of NEC before being discharged. At the same time, a seemingly healthy preterm baby who has already gone home is more likely to show symptoms two to three weeks after birth.
Aside from being born prematurely, infants are also at a higher risk for developing NEC if they:
- Are formula-fed
- Were born weighing less than 1,500 grams, or around 3.3 pounds
- Have comorbidities like low blood pressure, sepsis, and congenital heart disease
Formula’s Link to NEC
While powdered formula is generally safe for healthy infants, it is not sterile. This means that even if you carefully sterilize your child’s bottle and use filtered, distilled water, your baby could still potentially be exposed to harmful bacteria like cronobacter.
Bacteria found in powdered formula can also be a factor in NEC. When you expose a premature infant’s gastrointestinal tract to bacteria in things like powdered formula, it can cause serious problems. It is not entirely about the bacteria, either. Experts have noted that the following may all play a role in the development of NEC in newborns:
- Infant formula makeup
- How often a baby eats
- Immature mucous membranes in premature infants’ intestines
Although babies who are breastfed can still develop NEC, they do so at much lower rates. Experts agree that formula seems to be a key factor in most cases of NEC.
Multiple studies have specifically cited formula made from bovine milk as having a much greater risk of causing NEC in preterm babies. Approximately 80% of all formula is cow’s milk-based, including popular brands like:
- Parent’s Choice
- Happy Baby
- Go & Grow
Symptoms, Diagnostics, and Treatment of NEC
Symptoms associated with NEC in babies typically develop between 3 and 12 days after birth. Late-onset NEC can sometimes occur several weeks after birth, so be sure to seek immediate medical attention if your child develops any of the following symptoms within this timeframe:
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Bloody stools
- Refusing to eat or eating much less than normal
- Green colored vomit
- Sluggish or lethargic behavior
- Low body temperature
Even infants who recover from NEC often go on to have other related health issues that can be either temporary or lifelong, including:
- Trouble gaining weight
- Reoccurring digestive issues or failures
- Neurological development problems
- Bowel strictures
If your baby does develop any additional health problems after suffering from NEC, you might want to speak with a baby formula attorney in Hawaii. A lawyer can help determine whether you can collect compensation on your child’s behalf.
Doctors will usually perform a physical examination of your child first. A key area of interest is your child’s abdominal area. If it appears distended, swollen, painful, or red, it could be an indication that there is inflammation in the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. This is just one potential sign that they could be suffering from NEC.
A doctor will order an X-ray of your child’s abdominal area to confirm this diagnosis. Radiologists and doctors use the imaging results to look for indications of NEC, such as pneumatosis intestinalis, which are small bubbles that develop in the intestine’s wall. These bubbles are the result of bacteria producing air in the bowel.
In particularly advanced cases of NEC, gas and air bubbles can be spotted outside of the GI tract in the liver’s large veins.
Treatment for NEC will depend on the severity of the illness. Anywhere from 60% to 80% of babies do not require surgical intervention. Instead, doctors may:
- Replace bottle feedings with nutrients delivered through an intravenous (IV) catheter
- Suction air and fluid from the stomach with a nasogastric tube placed through the nose
- Prescribe antibiotics
- Perform frequent blood tests to look for signs of infection
- Provide oxygen if swelling interferes with breathing
- Perform a red blood cell transfusion
Surgery is necessary when a baby does not respond well to these treatments or when the intestine is perforated. During surgery, a doctor will carefully remove only the destroyed pieces of the intestine. By only removing parts of the intestine that are destroyed, other segments have an opportunity to repair and regain function.
During surgery, a doctor may place a drain in your child’s abdomen to remove infected fluid.
Did Formula Harm Your Child?
No parent expects to face a medical emergency so soon in their child’s life. When you have a premature baby, you are thrown into the deep end of parenting, often without much experience or help to rely on. If your child develops a preventable illness like necrotizing enterocolitis because they consume dangerous formula, it is up to you to get them the medical help they need.
That help comes with a cost, though. Hospital bills for premature infants can already be astronomically high, and you might not be able to shoulder the financial burden of additional treatments.
NEC can be physically and emotionally traumatizing, though, putting infants and their families through some of the worst experiences of their lives.
At Frost Law Firm, PC, we know that premature infants and their families deserve better, and we fight for those who have faced this injustice. We want to assure you that you are not in this alone. There is no need to delay. Reach out to schedule your free consultation with one of our baby formula attorneys today.