|Vol. 21, No. 13||July 15, 1999|
Moms at the Top of the Food Chain
by BRYAN McLEOD
Texas Children's Hospital
Texas Children's Hospital may have one of the most high-tech newborn centers in the nation - but that's not what its highly trained neonatologists tend to brag about.
What they do brag about is the fact that more than 75 percent of mothers of newborns in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit provide breast milk to their babies - far surpassing the national average of 60 percent of all mothers breast-feeding.
"One of the things that we're proudest of is that all of our neonatologists actively promote and support breast-feeding," says Dr. Leonard Weisman, chief of Texas Children's Newborn Center. "Breast-feeding is considered the optimal source of healthy nutrition for babies, so our ability to encourage and support mothers and families in this effort is critical."
To encourage moms to participate in their babies' nutrition while at Texas Children's, the hospital provides exceptional lactation support through The Milk Bank. It is the nation's first "mother's own milk bank" - a state of the art collection, labeling, refrigeration and dispensing center that stores and prepares deposited breast milk to feed infants in the Texas Children's Newborn Center.
"The Milk Bank and lactation support program at Texas Children's was developed specifically to help mothers who are going to be separated from their infants but who still wish to breast-feed," says Nancy Hurst, manager of the Texas Children's lactation support program. "It is very unique, not just for Houston, but for the entire country. In fact, it is being used as the model for many other hospitals."
The Milk Bank is surrounded by several private rooms where mothers can come - 24 hours a day - to use hospital-provided breast pumps and collection bottles. Nurses specially trained in lactation consultation are available to counsel mothers about lactation problems, and also to evaluate whether mom may be too sick to participate or is taking medications that might not be safe for the baby. To ensure accuracy, technicians at The Milk Bank prepare every bottle sent to the Texas Children's nurseries - more than 100,000 feedings a year.
Texas Children's is leading dozens of studies relating to lactation and nutritional needs of premature infants - one of the benefits of its affiliation with the Children's Nutrition Research Center, the nation's first pediatric nutrition research facility funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. These research projects range from sucking disorders that prevent a child from properly feeding to common digestive disorders.
A current four-year study will compare the benefits of having infants receive only their mother's milk, a combination of their mother's milk and pasteurized breast milk from nonmaternal donors, or formula only. Incorporated will be research on whether "skin-to-skin" contact between mother and child affects the mother's antigen-producing abilities (in breast milk) - something that had not been previously studied.
Dr. Weisman, also professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, thinks much of this lactation-oriented research is responsible for Texas Children's neonatal success rate, and believes the emphasis on lactation support has benefits that go far beyond improved infant weight gain and better nutrition overall.
"Few things could be more stressful to a family than a premature birth followed by an infant's extended stay in the hospital and separation from the parents," he says. "Finding ways to keep them involved - and give them a sense of accomplishment by helping their baby gain health - is extremely important to the bonding process and to the family's ability to cope with the stress. Breast-feeding and milk collection are doubly valuable for this reason."
©2006 Texas Medical Center