MOTHERS' MILK BANK FOR NICU BABIES

PASTEURIZED & FORTIFIED BREAST MILK

by Lorel Kane

          This is the Ibikunle family of Spring.  Olumide Ibikunle calls his wife, Leslie, a supermom.  She is raising her two-and-a-half year old daughter, Joelle, and ten-month-old son, Lincoln, while working  full-time as a mechanical engineer.  She is also giving a part of herself to a special program that helps assure the survival of some of Houston's most fragile infants.

        "When my son was born he was in NICU for his first week and I got to see the little babies and they hold a special place in my heart, so I wanted to do whatever I could to help them."

         Leslie Ibikunle is helping by donating her own breast milk.  In the last six months she has donated 2,700 ounces to the Texas Children's Hospital Mothers' Milk Bank.  "When I had my daughter I had an oversupply but when I did my research the closest milk bank was in Ft. Worth.  Once I had my son and had so much supply at that time, I happened to talk to my mom about it and she started doing the research again and told me there was one right here in Houston."

       That is the new Mothers' Milk Bank at Texas Children's Hospital, which opened in August 2011, to meet the nutritional needs of infants in the hospital's Newborn Center, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).   Before the Mothers' Milk Bank opened those critically ill babies, whose own mothers were not able to provide an adequate supply of breast milk, were fed formula. 

BENEFITS OF BREAST MILK FOR NICU BABIES 

      "There have been several studies, two at Texas Children's Hospital NICU, that have shown that these babies do much better when they are provided a diet of 100% human milk," said Nancy Hurst, Director of Women's Support Services at the Texas Children's Pavilion for Women.  Hurst says while it's always best for a baby to feed on its own mother's milk that isn't always possible, so the next best thing is to provide milk from other women that has been tested and pasteurized. 

       Among other infections, premature infants are at particularly high risk for a disease called necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition in which a portion of the baby's intestines dies.  If a child survives the disease he or she will need surgery to remove that section of the intestine and reconnect the healthy portions.  "That certainly can have an effect long term on their growth and absorbing nutrients," Hurst said.

         Since Texas Children's Hospital implemented the protocol to feed 100% breast milk to the babies in NICU the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis there has decreased from the national average of 10-12 percent to just two percent.

        For the last 28 years TCH has had a milk bank that allowed women to supply breast milk for their own babies who were in the hospital.  The new Mothers' Milk Bank now allows the hospital to provide the same nutritional benefit to all its hospitalized babies through the generous donations of mothers.  "They are women who have extra breast milk. Many women, nowadays, are pumping in addition to feeding their baby.  They're returning to work so they have to pump and some women have the capacity to produce more milk than their baby actually needs."

         Those women can freeze their excess breast milk.  Then when they've accumulated 150 ounces they contact the milk bank which sends them shipping materials, including dry ice, to ship the milk to Prolacta Bioscience in California where it is tested, pasteurized and fortified. "These premature infants are so small we can't give them large volumes of milk so we have to increase the calories by adding fortifiers to it,"  Hurst said, which include  more calcium, phosphorus, and protein.

DONOR REQUIREMENTS

         Before becoming a donor women must first take a blood test and answer a questionnaire similar to ones required for donating blood.  It includes questions about lifestyle, general health, medications, foreign travel, etc.  "They also do a cheek swab that checks their DNA.  When the milk is delivered to Prolacta they can verify that this is, in fact, the milk from the donor," Hurst said.

         To date, the Texas Children's Hospital Mother's Milk Bank has had more than 80 donors who have provided more than 38,000 ounces of breast milk. "The milk that has been donated has met our needs and actually exceeded it.  So, we've been very, very fortunate at the outpouring of our donations.  It's just been incredible."

         And incredibly easy, according to Leslie Ibikunle, "I think it's a great way for mothers who have oversupply to kind of do their community service and do it from home.  It's a great program.  I tell everyone that will listen hoping that people will spread the word about it.  I'm really glad that they started it in the Houston area."

         To find out more about Texas Children's Mothers' Milk Bank and becoming a donor you can check its website: www.texaschildrens.com/milk or call 832-824-MILK.

         




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