Necrotizing Entercolitis (NEC) from Cow’s Milk Formula in Preterm and Low-Weight Infants

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.

In March 2024, an Illinois jury awarded $60 million to the mother of an infant who died from necrotizing enterocolitis after using Mead Johnson’s Enfamil formula, a loss for the company in the first of hundreds of suits to go to trial alleging certain cow’s milk-based formulas cause a fatal illness in premature infants.

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.

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, manufacturers 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.

Contact us

If you have a child who developed Necrotizing Entercolitis as a preterm or low-weight infant, we urge you to contact an infant injury lawyer at Lieff Cabraser today about your potential case and recovery. There is no charge for our review of your case, and the information you provide will help us hold the manufacturers accountable for the injuries caused by their products.

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    Do you have a child who was diagnosed as an infant with Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)? yesno

    Was your child born before 37 weeks of pregnancy? yesno

    Was your child's birth weight less than 4 lbs? yesno

    Was your child given cow’s milk formula or fortifier in the NICU BEFORE being diagnosed with NEC? yesno

    Did NEC require surgical intervention or result in the death of the child? yesno

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