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Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)?

NEC is a disease that causes infection and inflammation in your baby's bowel. It usually happens within the first 2 weeks after birth and is more common in premature infants.

What increases my baby's risk for NEC?

The cause of NEC is unknown. Bacteria are thought to be a possible cause. The following may increase your baby's risk:

  • Premature birth (before week 37 of pregnancy), or a low birth weight
  • Low oxygen or blood supply from a difficult delivery
  • Formula that is too concentrated or given too quickly
  • Bacteria spread from another baby

What are the signs and symptoms of NEC?

  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Green vomit or bloody bowel movements
  • Breathing problems, such as apnea (breathing stops for more than 20 seconds)
  • Body temperature that changes quickly from very low to a fever
  • Frequent crying, fussiness, or sleeping more than usual
  • Poor sucking or feeding problems

How is NEC diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be done to check for infection.
  • A bowel movement sample may sent to a lab for tests. This can help find the cause of the infection.
  • Abdominal x-rays may show problems, such as blockages or air in your baby's bowel or abdomen.

How is NEC treated?

  • A feeding tube or IV may be used to give your baby nutrition and medicine.
  • Special milk formulas and vitamins may be given to make sure your baby gets proper nutrition.
  • Medicines may be given to fight an infection caused by bacteria or to relieve pain.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair or remove part of your baby's bowel. He or she may also need a colostomy. This is surgery to connect part of the bowel to an opening on the abdomen. Your baby's bowel may be reconnected when the infection and swelling have healed.

Further information

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your baby has trouble breathing, or his or her lips and fingernails turn blue.
  • Your baby has a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your baby is not able to eat or drink or urinates less or not at all.
  • Your baby looks very weak or sleeps more than normal.
  • You see blood in your baby's vomit or diaper.

When should I call my baby's doctor?

  • Your baby 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 questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. Learn about your baby's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your baby's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your baby. 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.

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