What is NEC?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (nek-roh-TIE-zing en-ter-oh-coh-LIE-tis), also called NEC (often pronounced as “neck”), is an infection that in many cases is followed by redness or swelling of the intestines (bowel).

This infection can cause damage to the bowel over time, which can lead to the death of portions of the bowel. In some cases, a hole can form in the bowel, known as a perforation. If the bowel breaks open, it can cause the infection to spread throughout the body.

Often NEC impacts babies who are born very early and very small. Being born early can increase the risk of NEC because many organs have not yet fully developed and their immune systems are immature. Infants who develop NEC are typically preterm, which means they are born before 32 weeks of pregnancy (gestation). However, NEC can also occur in babies who are born at 37 weeks (full term) of pregnancy.

The chance of your baby developing NEC is low. However, NEC is serious and sometimes causes death.

Sometimes parents and family members are the most aware of changes in their babies’ normal habits. As a parent, it is important to be watchful for some of the signs and symptoms that could mean your baby might be ill.

The information provided in the Prevent Complications! pamphlet may help prevent complications, such as NEC, from developing in a baby. The What is Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)? pamphlet provides a basic understanding of NEC symptoms, treatment, prevention and recovery. Both pamphlets include additional resources for parents of babies recently diagnosed with NEC.

Topics covered in the pamphlets include:

  • How NEC develops
  • What happens inside a baby with NEC
  • Symptoms of NEC to be aware of
  • How NEC is treated
  • What to expect during the recovery period
  • Support for parents of infants with NEC
  • Key NEC-Zero Project interventions