Even as the shortage of baby formula on store shelves creates controversy and concern, another issue related to baby formula is even more pressing: the role baby formulas play in triggering NEC, or Necrotizing Enterocolitis. As the link between common baby formulas and this difficult and sometimes fatal disease has become more clear, it’s led to lawsuits against formula producers, which have finally culminated in the establishment of a multidistrict litigation.
NEC occurs when bacteria gets into an infant’s underdeveloped intestines, causing them to become inflamed and perforated. That can lead to obstructions in the intestines, or it can cause the blood supply to these vital organs to be cut off. The result is that the intestines are deprived of oxygen, causing them to “necrotize,” or die. In some cases, this leads to sepsis, which can prove fatal.
As this blog post discusses, the specific causes of NEC are not fully known, so there is some uncertainty about how exactly baby formula contributes to its development in infants. However, NEC is a rare disease, affecting just one in 2,000 to 4,000 births, and in almost all cases, the infant has been fed baby formula instead of human milk. That leads experts to agree that a causal link exists. In addition, the evidence shows that although there’s a connection between every baby formula and NEC, the correlation is strongest with name brands Enfamil and Similac.
But even after studies began showing a correlation, baby formula manufacturers continued to sell their products without warnings. Baby formula is commonly administered to infants in NICU units, and advocates for survivors of NEC and their families argue that if adequate warnings had been provided they could have found a way to provide human milk to their infants even when they were hospitalized. Those warnings were also not given to the general public, leading families to make the choice not to breastfeed their infants without understanding all the risks.
Despite this advocacy, many families who have endured NEC with an infant remain uncertain about the causal link—and unsure whether their situation warrants a lawsuit. If you fall into this category, it’s important to discuss your specific circumstances with an attorney who understands the current baby formula class action lawsuits and who can advise you on the strength of your case. It’s also important to remember that cases like these don’t just win relief for those who were harmed by the manufacturers’ failure. They also provide a warning to the marketplace that motivates other companies to warn about the risks associated with their products more quickly.