NEC varies in severity and is generally associated with preterm babies, but has been seen in term babies. It can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms are similar to other conditions’ symptoms. Symptoms include a mild to severely swollen abdomen with possible other issues such as discolouration, vomiting, diarrhoea, poor feeding, lethargy, periods of apnoea/disrupted breathing, and fever. Suspected NEC is always treated as a medical emergency followed with extreme caution.
In the case of ‘suspicion’ that your baby may have NEC, oral feeds are stopped and your baby will receive intravenous fluids and antibiotics. This allows the bowel to rest whilst further investigations are being carried out to diagnose the condition. Once your baby’s doctor deems it appropriate, oral feeds will be slowing reintroduced. If your baby has developed a perforation in their intestine or has not responded to antibiotic treatment then surgery will be required. It will be carried out under general anesthetic, and the surgeon will remove any part(s) of the intestine where the tissue has died. Your baby will be fed intravenously as they recover from the surgery.
An exclusive human milk diet reduces the risk of necrotising enterocolitis.