What Parents Should Know about NEC from Cow Milk-Based Formulas Similac and Enfamil are popular formulas. Both are cow milk-based, and both have been linked to a potentially deadly condition called necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, in premature babies. NEC can have serious physical, emotional, and financial consequences for the baby and the entire family. These formulas are the most common type used in American hospitals.

Lawsuits against Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories are being filed throughout the country, claiming the manufacturers failed to warn preemie parents of the risks associated with cow milk-based formulas like Similac and Enfamil.

What is necrotizing enterocolitis?

Necrotizing enterocolitis is a severe infection that attacks the gastrointestinal system of a (usually) prematurely born child. As the name suggests, NEC may cause the rapid decay and death of intestinal tissue in the child. Under these circumstances, the breakage of the intestinal wall can lead to internal leakage of contents, such as bile and other fluids, within the intestines.

Symptoms of NEC include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Changes in body temperature, heart rate, etc.
  • Slow or stagnant weight gain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Will my child die from NEC caused by milk-based formula?

NEC is curable if it is caught and treated quickly. However, there are serious risks if the intestinal walls are perforated, which is why this condition is so dangerous:

  1. Diagnosing the condition in early stages can be difficult, which means time is not on the child’s side.
  2. The risk of sepsis is considerable if the bile leaks into the abdomen.
  3. The risk of tissue death for the intestine is immediate, reducing the chances of survival.
  4. Surgery always has a certain level of risk; surgery on a premature infant is the riskiest of all.

This is last point is critically important, because unlike what you see on TV, not all surgeons are qualified to operate on children, let alone premature infants. This means that if your child has NEC and requires emergency surgery – and likely multiple additional surgeries as he or she ages – you have a limited number of choices for seeking treatment. Of the estimated 18,000 surgeons in America, about 1,000 are pediatric surgeons, per General Surgery News. Out of the country’s 6,000 hospitals, only 170 are considered Level I or Level II pediatric trauma centers. And out of the 279 hospitals ranked for their work with children, U.S. News & World Report ranked exactly one hospital in Washington, D.C. for pediatric gastroenterology & GI surgery: Children’s National Hospital.

Has Similac been recalled?

It is important to remember that none of these products has been recalled by the offending companies nor outlawed by the government. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not acted on this problem. It even allows cow-based infant formula to be fed to premature babies in hospitals without parental supervision.

It is additionally worth noting that Similac is the single most common formula in the American hospital system. This is how numerous lawsuits around Similac and other cow-based formulas have begun, as hospitals have given these formulas to premature babies who later went on to develop NEC, experiencing extreme injury and even death.

What kinds of NEC lawsuits are being filed?

Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories are being sued by multiple plaintiffs across the country. Much of the controversy surrounds the fact that both formula makers allegedly knew and failed to advise hospitals, doctors, and caregivers that cow-based formula products being fed to premature babies can lead to a higher risk of developing NEC.

In addition to allegedly lying to the public about the impacts of their products, these companies went so far as to claim that their Similac and Enfamil products were superior and safer alternatives to human breast milk.

The link between NEC and cow-based milk can be traced back 30 years. Recent studies have confirmed that premature babies are nearly six to ten times more likely to develop NEC than those fed regular, human breast milk. It is said that every week, new lawsuits concerning the development of NEC in premature babies are brought against Mead Johnson and Abbott Laboratories.

Some examples of typical causes of action in cases against these companies include:

Can you sue for medical malpractice if your preemie develops NEC?

Potentially, yes. It is the hospital’s responsibility to provide adequate care for you and your baby and minimize the risk of developing a life-threatening disease. You may be able to make a claim for medical negligence based on:

  • Ignoring decades of studies and data which outlines the risks associated with cow milk-based infant formula
  • Failure to inform parents about those risks
  • Failure to accurately diagnose and treat NEC

What damages can you pursue in a medical malpractice claim?

Victims of medical malpractice can seek damages for their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. These cases are challenging enough, but they become especially complex when the victim is a child. The type of damage NEC does can last a lifetime, necessitating multiple surgeries and medications. If your child was hurt because of the negligence of a medical professional, you should not have to bear the burden of the financial strain which comes with lifelong care.

Every day, new lawsuits are being filed against the makers of Similac, Enfamil, and other cow milk-based infant formulas. Speak with an attorney to see if this is the right option for you.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through our contact form or by calling 202-463-1999.