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  1. Gephart, Sheila M. RN, BSN
  2. McGrath, Jacqueline M. PhD, RN
  3. Effken, Judith A. PhD, RN
  4. Halpern, Melissa D. PhD


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common cause of gastrointestinal-related morbidity and mortality in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Its onset is sudden and the smallest, most premature infants are the most vulnerable. Necrotizing enterocolitis is a costly disease, accounting for nearly 20% of NICU costs annually. Necrotizing enterocolitis survivors requiring surgery often stay in the NICU more than 90 days and are among those most likely to stay more than 6 months. Significant variations exist in the incidence across regions and units. Although the only consistent independent predictors for NEC remain prematurity and formula feeding, others exist that could increase risk when combined. Awareness of NEC risk factors and adopting practices to reduce NEC risk, including human milk feeding, the use of feeding guidelines, and probiotics, have been shown to reduce the incidence of NEC. The purpose of this review is to examine the state of the science on NEC risk factors and make recommendations for practice and research.