Necrotizing enterocolitis (nek-roh-TIE-zing en-ter-oh-coh-LIE-tis) is a serious intestinal problem that happens to some newborns. Tissue in the colon (part of the bowel) dies off, causing pain, swelling, or even a hole. Bacteria then get into the blood or belly and make babies very sick. 

More to Know

Doctors don't know exactly why some babies get necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC for short). It is more common in premature infants because their intestines and immune system are not fully developed. Experts believe that injury to the intestinal lining, too much bacteria, and formula feeding may also contribute to NEC. NEC usually happens in the first 2 to 4 weeks of life. 

Babies with NEC need medical care right away. Treatment includes stopping feedings and giving intravenous fluids and nutrition. Doctors give babies with NEC antibiotics and watch them very closely. Some babies need surgery if the colon is badly damaged. 

Keep in Mind

After getting medical care, most babies recover fully. Some need more treatment or surgery to fix problems like scarring in the intestine. Sometimes a baby's body can have trouble getting enough nutrients, especially if part of the intestine has been removed. 

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

Back to Articles

Related Articles

Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Necrotizing enterocolitis is an intestinal disease that usually affects preemies. Medicines and therapy can help babies with NEC.

Read More

Digestive System

The digestive process starts even before the first bite of food. Find out more about the digestive system and how our bodies break down and absorb the food we eat.

Read More

When Your Baby’s Born Premature

Premature infants, known as preemies, come into the world earlier than full-term infants. They have many special needs that make their care different from other babies.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and