The Impact of NEC on Long-Term Development and Quality of Life

Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious condition that primarily affects premature infants. NEC occurs when the tissue in the baby’s intestine dies, causing inflammation, bleeding, and the formation of a hole in the intestine. NEC is a relatively rare condition, but it is the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorder among premature infants.

According to the National Library of Medicine, this condition affects 2% to 5% of all premature infants, which accounts for nearly 8% of NICU admissions and is responsible for 10%-50% of mortality rates among their sufferers.

What Causes NEC in Babies?

The exact cause of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in babies is not well understood. It is thought to be a multifactorial condition that results from a combination of factors, including immaturity of the baby’s immune system, abnormal bacterial colonization of the intestine, and disruptions in blood flow to the intestine.

Healthline states that NEC usually begins to develop within two weeks of birth, but around 90 percent of cases are in premature babies. Thus prematurity is the strongest risk factor for NEC. Infants born before 37 weeks of gestational age are at the greatest risk for developing NEC.

Disruptions in blood flow to the intestine are another potential cause of NEC, which occurs when the blood vessels in the intestine become inflamed and narrowed, disrupting the blood flow to the area. This can cause the tissue in the intestine to die, leading to the development of NEC.

Another common risk factor of NEC is the use of formula instead of breast milk. Several studies have shown that there is a 6 to 10 times lower incidence of NEC in breastfed infants than in formula-fed infants.

The reason is that the formula cannot be as easily digested as breast milk, and it can lead to changes in the gut microbiome that increase the risk of NEC. Additionally, premature infants have immature immune systems that may not be able to effectively fight off infections, so any changes to the gut microbiome may increase their risk of developing an infection that could lead to NEC.

The formula also lacks the natural protective factors found in breast milk, such as antibodies, that help to prevent infections. These factors, along with the fact that formula-fed premature infants are more likely to be exposed to bacteria from the environment and health care setting, all increase their risk of NEC.

You can file a Baby Formula NEC Lawsuit to take legal action if your premature baby developed this condition and believe that it was caused by some form of negligence or malpractice, such as wrong administration of formula or misdiagnosis.

Long-Term Impact Of NEC

The long-term impact of NEC on a baby’s development and quality of life can be significant. NEC can cause serious damage to the intestine, leading to the need for surgery or even the removal of the affected portion of the intestine. This can lead to chronic health issues such as malnutrition, growth failure, and problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Neurological Complications

NEC can also lead to long-term neurological complications. Research has shown that babies who have had NEC are at a higher risk for developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and other neurological conditions. The severity of the NEC and the age at which it occurs can also be a determining factor in the baby’s long-term outcomes.

Developmental Delay

Babies who have had NEC may be at an increased risk for developmental delay, particularly in the areas of fine motor skills and cognitive development.

Plus, surgery and prolonged hospitalization can have an impact on neurodevelopment and increase the risk of developmental delays.

It’s important to note that not all babies who have had NEC will experience developmental delays, and some may catch up with their peers eventually. Early intervention can help babies with developmental delays, such as providing physical, occupational, and speech therapy, as well as supporting their overall development through education and learning activities.

Psychological Impact On Family

The emotional toll on the parents of a baby with NEC can be significant. They may feel a range of emotions, such as guilt, grief, anxiety, and depression.

Knowing that their newborn is ill and undergoing treatment can be stressful, and not knowing the outcome can cause anxiety. Some parents may also struggle with feelings of guilt, blaming themselves for the baby’s condition.

If you’re a parent or you know someone, it’s important to have a support system in place to help you cope with the emotional stress of having a baby with NEC. You may find it helpful to talk to other parents who have experienced similar situations or to seek counseling or therapy. 

Need For Support In Daily Activities

Prolonged hospitalization or surgery can also lead to a prolonged recovery period, which leads to the need for support in daily activities throughout the child’s life.

It is important for parents and caregivers of premature babies to be aware of the risk factors for NEC and to work closely with healthcare professionals to ensure that their baby receives the best possible care. 

The good news is that with early diagnosis and treatment, most premature babies who develop NEC survive and go on to lead normal lives.