Why Preterm Babies in NICUs Are Vulnerable To Fatal Illnesses

NEC lawsuit update

The world seems tiny from inside an incubator. Beeping machines and murmurs fill the air of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), a place where the strongest fight for survival often begins for far too tiny babies. 

If you’re a parent with a preemie – a baby born before 37 weeks –  you’re probably feeling overwhelmed and afraid. Out of every 10 newborns, 1 is preterm. And in every 40 seconds, 1 of those preterm babies dies.

Climate change, pollution, and COVID-19 make children more vulnerable to serious illnesses. Neonatal intensive care units are supposed to give advanced care to these underdeveloped babies, but they often fail to do so.  

Understanding why this happens is the first step to feeling empowered, and this blog is here to answer those scary questions parents might have. 

Serious Health Challenges Preemies Face in NICUs

Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

Premature babies’ intestines are incredibly delicate. NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis) is a life-threatening gastrointestinal condition. In this disease, parts of an infant’s intestines become inflamed and damaged. This disease has a mortality rate of 50% in preemies, especially those who weigh under 51/2 pounds, and need breathing support. 

Tube feeding in neonatal units raises the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis. This can cause abdominal pain or yellow vomit in preterm babies. Most NICUs suggest feeding cow-based formula, which increases the risk for NEC. 

TorHoerman Law says that families who received bovine-based formula as a present from the hospital or whose babies were nourished with any of the toxic formulas that led to NEC have filed lawsuits. These lawsuits are against toxic baby formula manufacturers (majorly Abbott and Mead Johnson), alleging that the formulas contain ingredients causing necrotizing enterocolitis. 

In a recent NEC lawsuit update, the jury held Mead Johnson, a manufacturer of baby formula, liable and awarded $60 million to the plaintiffs. If you’re one of the parents whose baby suffered from NEC due to toxic baby formulas, you may be eligible for filing a toxic baby formula lawsuit.

Severe Infections

The NICU is a place of amazing care, but even the best hospitals have germs. For most babies, these aren’t a huge worry. But with their half-built immune systems, preemies are far more vulnerable to infections, including sepsis.

Sepsis is the infection that happens when a baby’s body has an extreme reaction to a germ that’s spread into the bloodstream. It’s a serious emergency that needs fast treatment. 

Also, premature babies have high exposure to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). These bacteria are nicknamed “superbugs” because they don’t respond to many common antibiotics.


A premature baby doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Preemies can get anemia from frequent blood tests in Neonatal Care Units. These tests take tiny amounts of blood. 

This usually occurs in preterms weighing less than 1 kg and requires treatment like extra iron, or sometimes RBC transfusion.

Apnea of Prematurity (AOP)

This is when a baby has pauses in breathing longer than 20 seconds. It’s very common in preemies because the part of their brain that controls breathing isn’t fully mature. Most babies “outgrow” it as they get older, but they may need some support in the NICU.

Bradycardia (“Brady”)

This is a condition characterized by a slowdown in the baby’s heart rate. It often happens alongside apnea episodes in premature babies. In preemies, when the heart rate falls below 100 beats per minute in a baby less than 1250 grams or to less than 80 beats per minute in bigger babies. NICU monitors watch for this closely, and sometimes a gentle touch or change in position is all needed to help. 

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a serious eye disorder that affects premature babies.  It happens when the blood vessels in their eyes develop abnormally. This puts preemies at risk for vision problems and even blindness.  A study of 6998 premature babies found ROP in 68% of preterms weighing less than 1251 grams at birth. 

Many lifesaving measures used in the NICU increase the risk of retinopathy of prematurity in premature babies. Excessive or prolonged oxygen therapy given in these care units harms visual development, increasing the risk of retinopathy of prematurity. 

Hope Of Changes And Advancements

Doctors and researchers worldwide are always working to give preterms better care and better outcomes. Survival rates for even premature babies are improving over time. A study shows a 78% survival improvement for babies born between 22 and 28 weeks, which is incredible news.

Premature babies overcome amazing odds. They fight battles most of us will never know. So while this blog has talked about real risks, that’s not the whole story. Preemies are survivors and many go on to have healthy, happy lives.


Why Are Preterm Infants Often Sent to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit NICU?

Preterm infants are sent to neonatal intensive care units because they are born prematurely. This can cause issues with breathing. It can also affect regulating body temperature, feeding, and fighting infections.

Why Are Preterm Infants at a High Risk of Illness and Death?

Preterm infants are more susceptible to illness and death because their organs simply aren’t fully developed yet. This underdevelopment affects nearly every bodily system, making them vulnerable.

What Is The Corrected Age of a Preterm Baby?

The corrected age of a preterm baby is their age-adjusted to reflect their original due date. To calculate it, subtract the number of weeks or months they were premature from their actual chronological age. 

What Is The Preterm Formula?

The preterm formula is designed for premature babies’ unique nutritional needs. These formulas provide higher calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals than standard infant formula.

Wrapping up, WHO says that the first month of life is the most vulnerable period for newborns. Sadly, 2.3 million babies died in 2022 alone. Having your baby in the NICU is one of the hardest things a parent can go through. It’s normal to feel scared, overwhelmed, and even angry at times. These feelings are understandable and don’t make you a bad parent; they make you human.

This blog has covered some difficult topics. But now that you understand why preemies face these risks, you can be a better advocate for your baby. 

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