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Understanding Necrotizing Enterocolitis: A Serious Condition Linked to Infant Formula

As a new parent, nothing is more important than keeping your little one happy and healthy. And one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make is what to feed your baby. 

While many parents opt for the convenience of infant formula, recent research has shown that certain types of formula may be linked to a serious condition called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC).

But did you know that over 50% of infants born in 2018 were given infant formula, either as a supplement or exclusively, within the first three months of their lives? That’s right – despite the potential risks, formula-based milk remains a popular choice for many parents.

In fact, the global baby infant formula market is booming – with a whopping value of $25.5 billion in 2021 – and is projected to reach a staggering $56.6 billion by 2031. That’s a CAGR of 8.1% from 2022 to 2031.

But with the potential dangers of certain types of formula, it’s crucial to weigh the risks and benefits carefully. As a parent, it’s up to you to make an informed decision that prioritizes your child’s health and well-being.

In this article, we’ll explore what NEC is, what causes it, and how it’s linked to infant formula. We’ll also provide tips on how to reduce the risk of NEC and keep your baby healthy and thriving.

What is Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Necrotizing Enterocolitis is a serious condition that affects the intestines of premature infants, though it can also affect full-term infants. It happens when the lining of the intestine becomes inflamed and starts to die off. This can lead to a range of complications, including intestinal perforation, sepsis, and organ failure.

NEC affects 2% to 5% of all premature infants and is responsible for nearly 8% of all NICU admissions. The exact cause of NEC is not yet fully understood, but there are several factors that may contribute to its development. 

These factors include a weakened immune system, problems with blood flow to the intestine, and an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. While the mortality rate for NEC ranges from 10% to 50%, in the most severe cases involving perforation, peritonitis, and sepsis, mortality approaches 100%. 

What Is the Link Between Infant Formula and NEC?

While the exact cause of NEC is still being studied, recent research has suggested that certain types of infant formula may be linked to an increased risk of developing the condition. In particular, studies have shown that formulas made with cow’s milk protein, including Enfamil, may be associated with a higher risk of NEC.

One reason for this link is that cow’s milk protein can be difficult for premature babies to digest, leading to inflammation and other complications in the intestine. Moreover, certain types of formula may disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut, which can also contribute to the development of NEC. 

According to a study published in the May 2020 edition of the journal Breastfeeding Medicine, premature infants who were given formula made from cow’s milk had a significantly higher risk of developing Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) compared to those who were not. 

The study found that these premature babies were 4.2 times more likely to develop NEC and 5.1 times more likely to require surgery or die from the condition.

This situation has led to numerous lawsuits, including the filing of an Enfamil Lawsuit. As of 2022, over 100 Infant Formula Lawsuits have been centralized in the US District Court: Northern District of Illinois. 

According to TorHoerman Law, the lawsuits allege that the manufacturers failed to warn consumers about the risks associated with their products adequately and that they knew or should have known about the risks but failed to take appropriate action. 

How Can You Reduce the Risk of NEC?

While the link between infant formula and NEC is still being studied, there are several steps you can take as a parent to help reduce the risk of your baby developing the condition. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Breastfeed if possible: Breast milk has been shown to reduce the risk of NEC in premature infants. If possible, try to breastfeed your baby or use donor milk.
  2. Choose the right formula: If you’re unable to breastfeed, talk to your pediatrician about which formula is best for your baby. There are specialized formulas available that are designed to reduce the risk of NEC, such as those made with hydrolyzed protein.
  3. Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly before handling your baby and sterilize all bottles and other feeding equipment to reduce the risk of infection.
  4. Keep an eye out for symptoms: Be aware of the signs and symptoms of NEC, which may include feeding problems, bloating, and bloody stools. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.


Necrotizing Enterocolitis is a serious condition that can have long-lasting consequences for your baby’s health. While the link between infant formula and NEC is still being studied, there are steps you can take as a parent to help reduce the risk of your baby developing the condition. 

Talk to your pediatrician about the best feeding options for your baby, practice good hygiene, and keep a close eye on your little one’s health. With a little bit of care and attention, you can help keep your baby healthy and thriving.