Signs of NEC in Newborns

NEC is a severe intestinal disease in newborns that can be life-threatening. It can lead to inflammation and ulceration of the small and large intestines, sometimes resulting in an obstruction of the bowel. Although it is uncommon, the condition affects around 3,500 babies yearly.

The good news is that there are many things parents can do to help prevent NEC from occurring. This article will discuss those steps, plus what you should look for if you suspect your child has developed NEC.

Understanding NEC

NEC is a serious disease that affects the digestive system of newborns. It occurs when newborns do not receive proper nutrition in the womb or during the first few days after birth, which can cause severe illness and death.

NEC is most common among babies born prematurely, have low birth weight, or have other medical problems such as heart disease or jaundice. However, not every baby with these risk factors develops NEC. For example, newborn jaundice is quite common, with 3 out of 5 babies born. On the other hand, NEC is rare and doesn’t affect as many babies.

Common Risk Factors for NEC

There are several risk factors for NEC, including:

  • Premature birth: When a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, he or she has an increased chance of developing NEC.
  • Low birth weight: Low-weight babies have a higher risk of developing NEC than heavier infants. A low birthweight means the babies are less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Formula feeding instead of breastfeeding: Infants fed formula may be more likely to develop NEC than those breastfed exclusively or partially breastfed. This could be because infants who drink cow’s milk rather than human breast milk have less lactase, an enzyme needed for digesting lactose, and therefore can’t break down all the sugars in dairy products like cow’s milk as easily.

Formula feeding has been shown to have a strong association with increasing the chances of NEC in babies. In fact, this has even led to many lawsuits against baby formula manufacturers by parents. The baby formula lawsuit alleges manufacturers for not informing the parents about the potential dangers of formula feeding.

You can also file a lawsuit if your or a loved one’s baby developed NEC after feeding on cow milk-based baby formula. As stated by TorHoerman Law, many parents are filing cases against manufacturers of Enfamil and Similac. This increasing number of claims can lead to the court consolidating them into multidistrict litigation.

Early Warning Signs of NEC

NEC shows many early signs, and knowing them can help you detect any symptoms in your child so that your doctor can treat it quickly before any complications. 

Here are some common NEC symptoms in babies:

  • Feeding problems: You will notice feeding problems where the baby cannot properly consume and digest the food. This can increase the chances of vomiting.
  • Dehydration: Look for signs of dehydration in your newborn, such as sunken eyes and dry mouth. If your baby is not drinking enough fluids, consult the doctor immediately.
  • Malabsorption: A newborn may experience vomiting or diarrhea if it has malabsorption issues. This can be caused by NEC or another digestive condition like lactose intolerance or celiac disease.
  • Blood in stool: Call your pediatrician immediately if you see blood on their diaper or bright red stools when cleaning off after a bowel movement. It could be an early warning sign of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

If you see any of these NEC symptoms in babies, it is vital to consult with your doctor for an early diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis is confirmed, the easier it will be to treat a baby suffering from NEC.

What to Do if You Suspect NEC

If you suspect your baby has NEC, seeking medical attention immediately is essential. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and order tests to determine if your baby is affected by this condition.

If you have any questions about the signs of NEC in newborns or what to do if you suspect your newborn may have it, talk with your pediatrician or other healthcare provider.

Seek Medical Attention

If your baby shows any signs of NEC, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. If you have a premature baby, immediately take them to the hospital. If they are full-term, call your doctor immediately. If diagnosed with NEC, they will need immediate treatment and monitoring so their condition doesn’t worsen.

Diagnostic Tests

If your doctor suspects your newborn has NEC, he or she will likely perform diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis. These can include:

  • A stool sample is to check for blood in the stool and/or bacteria in the digestive tract.
  • A CT scan uses X-rays to visualize organs inside the body’s cavities. This test can help determine whether intestinal damage or blockage is present, in addition to assisting doctors in determining how severe any complications are at this point.
  • An ultrasound of your baby’s abdomen to look for signs of necrosis, such as fluid accumulation and thickened bowel walls.
  • A barium enema involves an injection into an IV line tube that allows doctors to see inside your baby’s intestines through an X-ray image taken after giving him/her barium liquid through another IV line tube connected directly to his/her stomach. The double contrast barium enema is being replaced by CT Colonography slowly. However, some centers still conduct tests for polyps and undiagnosed abdominal pain.

Treatment Options

There are many treatment options available to treat NEC in babies, and some of these options include the following:

  • Surgery: Surgeries can be performed on newborns with NEC to remove the dead tissue in the intestine, which may reduce the risk of infection and prevent further damage.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is not used often because it can cause more side effects than benefits in infants younger than four months old. However, it may be an option for older children who have had multiple episodes of NEC or who have severe disease that has not responded well to other treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.
  • Chemo drugs: These medications include metronidazole and vancomycin, given intravenously directly into a vein. They work by killing harmful bacteria that cause infections, like necrotizing enterocolitis.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are supplements containing live beneficial bacteria found naturally in our digestive system that help keep us healthy by boosting our immune system so we can fight off infections better.


If you notice any of these signs in your newborn, it’s essential to contact your doctor right away. Your baby may have NEC if he or she has been feeding poorly, has diarrhea and/or vomiting, has a swollen abdomen that feels hard when pressed on by hand, or loses weight despite having plenty of breast milk or formula.