Preterm and very low birth weight (VLBW) infants have nutritional requirements that breastfeeding cannot always satisfy. In these cases, parents and hospitals turn to baby formulas to supplement breastfeeding. Alarmingly, research has found that cow’s milk-based baby formula can cause a potentially deadly health condition called necrotizing enterocolitis.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a life-threatening condition that results in the death of tissues in the intestine. Common symptoms of NEC are abdominal bloating, bloody stool, and vomiting. NEC is most common in VLBW and premature babies. NEC leads to intestinal failure, multi-organ failure and is fatal for up to 40% of infants.

What Is the Connection Between NEC and Baby Formula?

Cow’s milk-based baby formula is proven to increase the likelihood of NEC in infants. Infants who receive a mix of breastmilk and formula are three times more likely to develop NEC. Infants fed only formula are six to 10 times more likely to develop NEC. The likelihood continues to grow when VLBW and premature babies are fed formula.

Premature babies are more susceptible to NEC because of their immature Paneth cells. Paneth cells are responsible for the intestines’ immune response. In lab rat experiments, a combination of Paneth cell disruption and formula milk resulted in high rates of NEC.

Who Is Liable When a Baby Suffers from NEC?

Baby formula manufacturers almost exclusively use cow’s milk in their formula recipes. Newborn intensive care units also commonly feed premature babies special formulas like Similac Special Care and Enfamil Premature.

Formula may be used because of insufficient breast milk supply, or the growth benefits of calorie-dense formula recipes. However, the risk of deadly NEC outweighs the benefits of cow’s milk formula.

Formula manufacturers may be liable for the harm caused by formula-induced NEC. Three kinds of defects can lead to a manufacturer’s liability. They are design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects.


A design defect is an inherently unsafe quality or characteristic in the product’s design. Baby formula that uses ingredients known to expose babies to a heightened risk of a deadly disease is a design defect.


A manufacturing defect occurs in the creation and transportation of the product. In a cow’s milk-based baby formula lawsuit, a manufacturing defect could be an error resulting in contamination or an incorrectly printed expiration date.


A marketing defect is marketing, labeling, or information that hazardously negates or misrepresents information. Baby formula companies failing to inform consumers of the increased NEC risk their formula contains is a marketing defect.

If you believe your baby developed NEC because of cow’s milk-based formula, an attorney can help you build a compensation claim. Michigan baby formula lawsuit attorneys can answer any questions you have about filing a lawsuit.

The Legal Path Forward

Once a lawsuit is filed, your legal team must prove four key points to win your case:


Only families whose infants have sustained injury or death from NEC may bring a lawsuit. Exposure to injury risk is not enough to successfully bring a lawsuit.


You must prove the formula was harmful and that a consumer could not have known it would be harmful to establish a marketing defect.


You must prove the defect of the formula is the cause of your child’s NEC. For example, your attorney may present scientific evidence that the formula significantly increases the likelihood of NEC.


You must show the formula was used as the manufacturer intended to prove it is liable for the harm to your baby.

File a Lawsuit with Our Help

You deserve compensation for injuries your baby incurred as a result of cow’s milk-based baby formula. Keep in mind that the statute of limitations limits how long you can wait to act.

If your baby has been injured or died due to formula-induced NEC, contact our baby formula attorneys today for a free consultation to learn how you can get justice for your child.

Our legal team can explain your legal rights and the next steps at your consultation. There is no legal obligation when you contact us.

Fieger Law represents clients locally and nationally, proudly serving clients in Michigan and across the United States.

Originally published January 31, 2022.