Can Necrotizing Enterocolitis be Prevented?

Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a common condition that can develop in premature babies. Over the nine-month pregnancy term, a baby’s internal system develops at different times and in different ways. Premature babies can have immature or underdeveloped systems and organs, depending on the length of term.

Studies show that NEC typically presents in premature babies born before 32 weeks. This figure is not absolute since NEC can occur in babies born at 37 weeks. Premature babies born before 32 weeks may be more susceptible because of an undeveloped or immature immune system. There are steps that can be taken to prevent this intestinal inflammatory disease. 

While medical professionals should be aware of the possibility of NEC in a premature baby, they should also be mindful that NEC can occur in full-term babies as well. Additionally, prevention and treatment can be more difficult due to improper medical care.

What are the Risks of NEC?

Premature babies are at greater risk of disease, including NEC. NEC is a common intestinal inflammation disorder that can be fatal if not treated immediately. NEC results in prolonged stays in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). NEC can also potentially lead to neurodevelopment impairment, and a decreased quality of life for the survivor.

Some available prevention strategies for NEC include:

  • Cautious feedings of premature babies.
  • Restriction of fluid intakes.
  • Feeding only breast milk.

Some new prevention methods that are still being studied include:

  • Introduction of probiotics. Since digestive disturbances may cause NEC, it is important to have limited use of antibiotics, add probiotics, and standardized feeding protocols to prevent or minimize NEC.
  • Combining dietary supplements, immunosuppressants, and chemotherapy drugs.

What are Treatment Options for NEC?

Most babies with NEC fully recover, but some do suffer long-term consequences. Treatments for NEC vary, and there is the danger of early mortality. Families can suffer from depression after a NEC diagnosis as well.

Some treatment options for NEC include:

  • Stopping all regular feedings
  • Antibiotic therapy
  • Frequent blood tests and imaging scans
  • Blood transfusion
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Surgery

What can Cause NEC to Develop?

Gut immaturity, infection, pathogenic enteric colonization, and local vascular injury with the presence of milk are causal factors of NEC. Some other NEC risk factors include:

  • Absence of breast milk in the premature baby’s diet.
  • Exposure to inhibitors of gastric acid.
  • Exposure to cow-milk derived proteins.
  • Formula milk.
  • Changes in a daily increase in the amount of enteral feeding or packed red blood cells transfusion.
  • Premature babies in an incubator may experience interference with the feedings of breast milk.

Obstacles of Breast Feeding

One important way to prevent NEC is to give the baby breast milk alone or with additives. However, there are some obstacles regarding breast milk feedings. In the United States, there is a lower success rate in early bonding that encourages breast feeding. Expressing breast milk can be a laborious process, and a premature baby’s mother may express lower amounts.

There are lower breastfeeding rates in the United States. For a working mother, maternity leave is limited, and there is a lack of societal support to prioritize having the mother spend an extended amount of time with the baby.

For the premature baby, there may be physical issues that prevents them from accepting breast milk. It takes extra time for them to breast feed. They can develop incorrect feeding methods, which will delay learning the effective process. Additionally, most premature babies have some form of acid reflux.

There is the perception that the maternity ward and NICU will prevent the baby from going home. A premature baby who is not properly feeding will not gain the weight necessary to leave, leading to stress and disappointment for the mother.

Complications Due to Improper Medical Care

A premature baby in a NICU is like any other patient in the hospital. Each patient should receive proper medical attention, including diagnosis and treatment. Hospitals serve to cure diseases, heal physical conditions, and alleviate symptoms. However, hospital environments also include contagions.

For a premature baby who cannot speak for themselves, diagnosis and treatment relies on the medical professionals who monitor them. This alone should alert the NICU professionals to closely look for signs of NEC. When the baby is not receiving breast milk, there is a greater chance of NEC developing. NEC is a progressive condition in the digestive system.

Failing to properly diagnosis NEC can be very serious for the baby. A medical professional should focus on early and aggressive treatment for any baby exhibiting signs of NEC. Misdiagnosis with or without complications can lead to greater intestinal scarring or narrowing, which interrupts food and nutritional absorption, and it can also lead to serious infection.

Medical professionals have a legal duty to know and watch for the symptoms of NEC. A health care professional should immediately take appropriate medical actions to address NEC. If there is suspicion of medical malpractice, the family should consult a lawyer. An experienced lawyer can examine whether a medical malpractice case is worth pursuing.

St. Louis NEC Lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC Know When Medical Malpractice Has Contributed to NEC

Every newborn is entitled to receive all the available medical treatment to prevent NEC. If you believe your child developed NEC because of a medical error, the St. Louis NEC lawyers at The Cates Law Firm, LLC can help you with your case. Located in Swansea, Illinois, we serve clients throughout St. Louis, Belleville, East St. Louis, Edwardsville, Granite City, Waterloo, Chester, Carbondale, St. Clair County, Madison County, Monroe County, Randolph County, and other regions throughout Southern Illinois. Call us at 618-277-3644 or contact us online for a free consultation.