Lieff Cabraser’s injury law team is investigating reports of preterm and low-weight infants developing the potentially lethal disease Necrotizing Entercolitis (NEC) from cow-milk based formula. Despite advances in the care of premature infants, NEC remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the premature and low-weight infant population.
NEC occurs in 1-5% of all neonatal intensive care admissions and 5-10% of all very low birthweight (<1500 g) infants. Multiple recent peer-reviewed studies have shown that premature infants fed bovine-based (cow) milk formula develop devastating and potentially fatal cases of NEC at higher rates, but the products still fail to warn of the risk. The manufacturers involved are Abbott Labs, Inc., which makes the Enfamil products, and Mead Johnson, which makes the Similac line of products.
NEC is the most frequent and lethal gastrointestinal disorder affecting preterm infants and is characterized by intestinal barrier disruption leading to intestinal necrosis, multi-system organ failure and death. The typical patient who develops NEC is a premature infant who displays a rapid progression from mild feeding intolerance to systemic sepsis, and up to 30% of infants will die from this disease.
Evidence indicates that bovine milk feeding in preterm infants, and especially in very low birth weight neonates, poses a significantly higher risk of NEC than feeding these infants wholly or partly human milk-based products. The current recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization are that very low birth weight infants and preterm infants (born at 36 weeks or less) should ideally receive human milk rather than preterm formula.
Science and research have advanced in recent years confirming strong links between cow-based products and NEC and death in premature infants. There have been multiple studies since 1990 that have shown an increased risk of NEC in this population from bovine milk-based formula.
Despite the strong medical evidence establishing the extreme dangers that cow-based products pose for premature infants, Abbott and Mead Johnson have marketed and continue to market their cow-based products as an equally safe alternative to breast milk, and indeed have promoted their products as necessary for additional nutrition and growth. One article estimated that formula manufacturers spent $4.48 billion on marketing and promotion in 2014 alone.