Hidden Dangers of Bovine Infant Formulas

Parents and caregivers of infants should be aware that makers of bovine infant formulas — which are regulated infant nutrition products derived from cow’s milk — failed to warn that their products may cause Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies. NEC is a dangerous bowel condition characterized by repeated infections and inflammation that can lead to stool escaping into the abdomen.

Is Bovine Formula Dangerous?

Cow’s milk-based formulas have been safely used for generations, but their risk to underweight and premature infants and connection to NEC only came to light recently. A 2020 study found that babies fed with bovine formula are six to 10 times more likely to develop NEC than babies nursed on breast milk.

NEC is the most common gastrointestinal-related cause of death in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). Though NEC is most common in premature, low-weight (under 3.25 lbs.) babies, it can affect other infants as well, including those born in difficult deliveries, with high levels of red blood cells, or suffering from other gastrointestinal issues.

20-40% of very-low birth-weight infants who develop NEC will require surgery, and 25-50% will not survive a bout with NEC. Those who are successfully treated by medication or surgery may experience residual complications, such as damaged or diminished intestines that are less capable of absorbing nutrients. In severe cases, an infant may require a bowel transplant.

What are the Signs of Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Infants affected by bovine formula that later develop NEC may show a variety of concerning symptoms, including a swollen belly, blood in their stool, bile-containing vomit (which is green in color), Ileus (the interruption of intestinal sounds), feedings that stay in the stomach for prolonged periods, a tender or red abdomen, and slowed breathing or apnea (intermittent pauses in breathing).

There are many other possible signs as well, some of which can be confused for common, non-serious issues that many infants experience like trouble feeding, constipation, and fatigue. These symptoms can present within days or weeks after the infant was fed a bovine formula.

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Which Brands and Types of Formula Contain Cow’s Milk?

80% of all infant formula is cow’s milk-based, and the two most common makers of bovine formula are Enfamil and Similac, but there are many others, including Baby’s Only, Bobbie, Earth’s Best, Gerber, Go & Grow, Happy Baby, Holle, Kendamil, Lebenswert, Loulouka, and Parent’s Choice, among others. Generic equivalents of the name-brand products also frequently contain bovine milk. Parents should also be aware that organic certification offers no protection against NEC.

How Can Parents Protect Their Infants?

The manufacturers of bovine formula have been aware of the risks their products pose for over a decade. Despite a duty to ensure their products are safe and to warn of their dangers, the makers of both Enfamil and Similac downplayed the potential health risks of their bovine formula products. A study in the British Medical Journal even questioned the independence and transparency of the companies’ clinical trials.

If you have reason to believe your child was negatively affected by a bovine formula, get in touch with your pediatrician immediately and then contact Garces, Grabler & LeBrocq to discuss your legal options.

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