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Necrotizing Enterocolitis in Children


  • Necrotizing (NEK-ro-TIZ-ing) enterocolitis (EN-ter-o-ko-LI-tis), also known as NEC, is a serious intestinal disease that usually affects premature infants. This often occurs within the first 2 weeks of birth and after milk feeding has started. With NEC, the intestines (bowels) get infected and inflamed (swollen). This causes damage and necrosis (tissue death) of a part of or the entire intestine. Over time, this necrosis may prevent blood flow through the intestines causing pain, perforation (a hole), or bleeding. The exact cause of NEC remains unclear but many factors are thought to increase its risk. These include prematurity, low oxygen and blood supply to the intestines, milk feedings, and infections.
    Picture of a normal digestive system
  • The signs and symptoms may appear after feeding your baby with milk. He may have abdominal (belly) pain, an enlarged abdomen, or trouble breathing or feeding. He may also have blood in his stools (BM) or greenish vomit (throw up). Abdominal x-rays and blood or stool tests may be used to diagnose NEC. Treatment may include an NG tube or IV feeding, surgery, or medicines to ease his symptoms. The earlier NEC is found and treated, the better the chances that your baby may live. With treatment, such as medicine and surgery, your baby's symptoms may be relieved and his quality of life may be improved.



  • Keep a current list of your child's medicines: Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list and the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists. Give vitamins, herbs, or food supplements only as directed.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed: Call your child's primary healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Ask before you change or stop giving your child his medicines.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age: Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight an infection caused by bacteria. Give your child this medicine exactly as ordered by his primary healthcare provider. Do not stop giving your child the antibiotics unless directed by his primary healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or give your child leftover antibiotics that were given to him for another illness.
  • Pain medicine: Your child may need medicine to take away or decrease pain. Know how often your child should get the medicine and how much. Watch for signs of pain in your child. Tell caregivers if his pain continues or gets worse. To prevent falls, stay with your child to help him get out of bed.

Ask for more information about where and when to take your child for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services for your child, ask for information.


A caregiver, called a dietitian, may talk to you about your baby's feeding and nutrition. Ask if it is OK to breastfeed your baby or what milk you should feed him. Ask also about the proper feeding of your baby, such as when to increase the amount of milk. Special formulas or oils may be added to your baby's foods or liquids. These may add extra calories to help him grow.

Wash your hands and your child's hands often.

This will help prevent the spread of germs. Encourage everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom. Also wash hands after changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.


  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your baby is irritable or crying more than usual.
  • Your baby's skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have any questions or concerns about your baby's disease, medicine, or care.


  • Your baby has trouble breathing or his lips and fingernails are turning blue in color.
  • Your baby is not able to eat or drink, or is urinating less or not at all.
  • Your baby is having a seizure (convulsion).
  • Your baby looks very weak or sleeps more than normal.
  • Your baby's vomit (throw up) or stool (BM) has blood in it.
  • Your baby's wound or bandage has pus or a bad smell even if you are cleaning it everyday.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Necrotizing Enterocolitis in Children (Aftercare Instructions)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.