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Necrotizing Enterocolitis

The most common intestinal condition in newborns, necrotizing enterocolitis happens in about 1% to 5% of infants in the NICU and is more common in low birth weight and premature babies.

What causes it?

It's thought that a number of factors can contribute to the development of NEC, which is the necrosis, or death, of parts of the intestine.

Although a full-term infant can get the condition, the more premature a baby is, the greater the risk for NEC, perhaps because the intestines aren't developed enough to handle digestion. Introducing milk feeding, damage to the intestines from an infection, and poor blood flow also might play a role.

Babies with NEC may:

  • have a tender or tense abdomen
  • need more oxygen or higher ventilator settings
  • show signs of apnea

How is it diagnosed?

An X-ray of the abdomen confirms the diagnosis.

How is it treated?

If there's no sign of a rupture in the intestines, doctors treat necrotizing enterocolitis by:

  • giving antibiotics
  • stopping all intestinal feeding (such as formula feeding, breastfeeding, or using a feeding tube)
  • switching to an IV
  • draining the baby's stomach
  • performing regular abdominal X-rays

In the case of an intestinal rupture, a surgeon may remove the diseased section of the intestine or make an incision in the abdomen to allow the infected fluid to drain.

How long will my baby be in the NICU?

Recovering from NEC can take a long time. Babies may spend many weeks in the NICU readjusting to regular feeding.

We're here to help.

If you would like to schedule an appointment for a NICU tour, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 855-687-6428.