Are premature babies at risk for developing deadly intestinal diseases?

Infants born prematurely suffer through a host of challenges on the path toward stable health. From respiratory difficulties to a weak immune system, parents and hospitals alike must devote significant attention to the health and care of premature babies. Unfortunately, due to numerous circumstances, these infants are at risk for developing life-threatening conditions.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a rare disease that can cause serious damage to the premature infant’s intestines. While symptoms can vary greatly depending on countless factors, infants have shown common complications in the first two weeks after birth. These symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low heart rate
  • Digestive difficulty as feedings typically remain in the stomach
  • Green vomit
  • Stomach that is visibly swollen
  • Blood in the stool
  • Body temperature fluctuations

For infants suffering with NEC, there are numerous medical treatments that can improve the condition. From nutrient feeding through an intravenous catheter to antibiotic therapy, vigilant medical care can relieve many symptoms. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for premature infants to require additional care including the placement of a nasogastric tube to relieve intestinal swelling or surgery to repair internal damage.

Are there certain risk factors?

Even though every situation is unique, some medical experts have linked the combination of premature birth and the use of certain infant formulas to the development of NEC. While medical experts prefer mother’s milk or donor’s milk, many premature infants require the additional nutrients gained through formula. Unfortunately, the chemical makeup of the formula could potentially exacerbate the situation leading to this severe, life-threatening condition.

After the birth of a premature infant, parents often experience a heightened sense of awareness. A baby who cannot process feedings or experiences a visibly bloated abdomen can indicate signs of intestinal distress. Do not hesitate to seek a thorough medical evaluation as soon as you become concerned with the health of your infant.