Babies recover differently from NEC. Many babies recover, but some will face long-term health issues and some can die. This can be a scary time for parents and family members. It is important that you ask questions and share your feelings with members of your baby’s health team.
Nutrition and fluids are given intravenously while the baby’s bowel is resting. After responding to treatment, your baby’s doctor will decide when to restart feedings and how fast. Breast milk is recommended when the baby’s feedings restart.
Breast milk is recommended because of its many known benefits that will assist your baby during recovery, which include:
- being high in immune properties, which protects your baby from infection
- promoting healthy bacteria in the gut, which aids in digestion and helps with the elimination of stool
- supporting eye and brain growth and helping the baby control their inflammatory response
Sometimes there are circumstances where mothers may not be able to breastfeed or supply enough breast milk. Feeding donor breast milk is the next best option for very small or very early babies. Donor breast milk that is pasteurized and comes from a milk bank is the second best option.
Many babies will recover fully from NEC and not have further feeding problems. However, sometimes babies with NEC may have complications such as a scarred or narrowed bowel or intestinal blockage. If so, more surgery is needed. Because of the impact on the intestine, the baby’s ability to absorb food can be disrupted. Many babies receive nutrition intravenously for a long time while their bowel is resting. When feedings are restarted, the bowel sometimes has trouble absorbing nutrients (malabsorption). Babies who have had part of their intestine removed are more prone to this. A baby with malabsorption may need nutrition delivered directly into a vein until the intestine heals enough to tolerate normal feeding. This can lead to long-term complications including something called “short gut syndrome.” Losing so much bowel can also cause long-term health problems like allergies and organ failure among others.
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