Necrotizing Enterocolitis: When the Smallest Babies Are At the Greatest Risk

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious gastrointestinal problem that can cause a hole to form in a babies’ intestines, generally between two to six weeks after birth. Babies with NEC may experience bacteria leakage into the belly or bloodstream. NEC can cause extensive injuries, and in the most serious cases can even be fatal.

If you believe your child has necrotizing enterocolitis because of a preventable birth injury, it’s time to reach out to a necrotizing enterocolitis lawyer to get the answers and pursue the compensation you deserve. 

What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, is a serious disease. Generally, NEC develops within a few weeks of birth, and while there is no one specific cause known to result in NEC, there are a number of factors that may contribute:

  • An underdeveloped intestine: In premature infants, underdeveloped organs are more likely, and extra care may need to be taken to watch for signs of NEC or other complications of premature birth.
  • Too little oxygen or blood flow: During or after birth, babies who are not receiving enough oxygen throughout their bodies may experience injury to their brains as well as other organs, like the intestines. 
  • Bacterial or viral infection: Babies are generally protected when they are in the womb. After they are born, their bodies are exposed to a number of bacteria and viruses, including possible outbreaks in neonatal intensive care units or other hospital settings.
  • Formula feeding: Breast-feeding may be safer than using formula, with some studies suggesting connections between NEC and the makeup of the formula itself, the rate of delivery of formula during feeding, or the immaturity of intestinal mucous membranes.

While NEC can affect both full-term and premature babies, NEC occurs primarily in premature babies, with babies weighing less than 4.5 pounds making up 80 percent of cases, according to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. NEC is the leading cause of death among extremely premature infants, with a fatality rate of 20-30 percent. 

What Causes Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

NEC diagnoses are classified based on when symptoms begin and the cause of the condition:

  • Classic: The most common type of NEC tends to affect infants born prematurely, before 28 weeks of pregnancy and occur three to six weeks after birth. In most cases of classic NEC, symptoms will come on suddenly.
  • Transfusion-associated: When an infant needs a blood transfusion to treat anemia (a lack of red blood cells). NEC is a known risk associated with blood transfusions.
  • Atypical: In some cases, babies may develop the symptoms and signs of NEC but require medical professionals to perform additional diagnostic tests or risk delayed or improper treatment.
  • Term infant: Full-term babies who develop NEC often have a birth defect or injury such as a congenital heart condition or birth asphyxia. One analysis showed an increase in babies born via Cesarean section who suffer from NEC, and the age of onset may be only a few days rather than the typical two to six weeks.

Whatever the cause, NEC can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated quickly. In many cases, NEC develops in babies who have previously displayed no feeding or gastrointestinal problems. 

What Do You Need to Prove in a Medical Malpractice Case Involving Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

All medical professionals have what is called a “duty of care” when it comes to their patients. Doctors, nurses, diagnosticians, and other medical professionals who work with infants are responsible for recognizing signs and symptoms of NEC and taking action.

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bloody stools
  • Poor feeding or feeding intolerance
  • Bile-colored (green) vomiting 
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unstable body temperature
  • Unstable heart rate or blood pressure

When surgery is needed, a pediatric surgeon generally examines the intestine and removes only the parts that have been damaged. The goal is usually to leave as much intestine as possible, allowing less damaged segments an opportunity to regain function. In some cases, a drain is placed in the abdomen to remove the infected fluid, and sometimes additional surgeries may be needed.

If you believe your baby’s NEC care was negligent, there are important factors to consider when determining if you have a case for necrotizing enterocolitis medical malpractice:

  • The presence of a severe permanent injury,
  • The likelihood of establishing that the claimed injuries were caused by substandard care,
  • How recently the injury occurred,
  • The life expectancy of the victim,
  • The cost of past medical care and, more importantly, the projected cost of future care,
  • The amount of past and future lost earnings,
  • The existence of immediate family members adversely affected by the injury to the patient, and
  • The presence of one or more responsible healthcare providers who have sufficient liability insurance coverage or assets to pay a settlement or verdict.

Failure to properly diagnose NEC and begin the correct treatment may cause irreparable harm to a baby, and it may even be medical malpractice. If your healthcare provider was negligent in treating your baby, and your baby suffered injury or even loss of life, you may be able to take legal action against anyone responsible for harming your baby. If your child was delivered during a difficult birth, or if a doctor failed to investigate the symptoms of NEC listed above, it’s time to consult an experienced birth injury lawyer. 

How Are Childbirth Malpractice Cases Resolved?

Medical malpractice cases have a limited window of time to file a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations make it impossible to file a lawsuit after that period of time has passed, but in cases involving pediatric medical malpractice or birth injuries, you may have more time to file suit. Understanding what to expect from a malpractice case can help you make informed decisions about contacting us as well as throughout the process of your lawsuit.  

If you or a loved one may be the victim of medical negligence, do not hesitate to contact us to begin fighting for the compensation you need. In cases of birth injury, babies with NEC may also have other injuries, such as brain injuries or cerebral palsy. We have the knowledge and resources needed to investigate and litigate your case, helping you seek the answers and compensation you deserve. 

Featured Verdicts and Settlements

  • $33.5 Million for Delayed C-section: A jury awarded this record-breaking verdict after finding that delays in performing an urgently needed cesarean section resulted in a baby developing severe brain damage and cerebral palsy.
  • $24.25 Million for Failure to Diagnose: A record-breaking medical malpractice jury verdict in the District of Columbia, obtained for a child who suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy because her doctors failed to properly diagnose and respond to an airway obstruction.
  • $10 Million for Emergency Room Negligence: A settlement obtained in a case as a result of failure to properly diagnose and treat infection.
  • $100s of Millions for Misdiagnosis: Hundreds of millions of dollars obtained in verdicts and settlements in cases involving delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of cancer or other life-threatening conditions.

Why Should You Choose Janet, Janet & Suggs?

Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC has represented clients in personal injury cases for over 40 years. We provide expert witnesses and attorneys to support clients through the complex process of a birth injury case, and we have a reputation for giving clients the confidence to say “no” to settlement offers that fall short of what they deserve. 

JJS is committed to helping you get the compensation you need to take care of your child. We do not charge any upfront costs and do not recover attorney’s fees until you obtain fair compensation or a favorable jury verdict. Our nationally recognized track record of successful verdicts demonstrates our commitment to working for justice and fair compensation. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case and learn about your rights.


Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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