Donor Milk Bank Expands At Texas Children's Hospital

Erin and Keith Stephens with one of their twin sons, Noah, at Texas Children's Hospital. Although Erin is breast feeding, both twins are also receiving a nutritional supplement for premature babies that is made from donated human breast milk. "I think it was a blessing," Erin said. "I think it's wonderful that women do that."
Mothers and doctors call it "liquid gold." Human breast milk has been shown to be healthier for babies than formula, and can even save lives. Texas Children's Hospital now operates its own milk bank, drawing on donations from nursing mothers in the Houston region.

When Ashley Beecher had her first daughter, she didn’t always have enough breast milk, and had to supplement with formula.

But when she had her second daughter in January, that was a very different story.

“It was very early on that I noticed like I’ve got so much more milk than what this child is drinking.”

Beecher, who lives in the Heights, started filling her freezer with frozen milk. Soon she and her husband were throwing out food just to make space.

The entire freezer door is now crammed with clear plastic bags of frozen milk.

(sound of fridge door opening)

“And this is not it, the last three shelves right here, they’re all completely packed with milk. There’s probably I would say estimated around 50 bags containing six ounces of milk in each one and that’s just what I have right now.”

Beecher was reluctant to throw it away so she was excited to find out about the donor milk bank at Texas Children’s Hospital.

It opened a year ago, with most of the donated milk going to premature infants.

But this summer, the hospital also started offering it to full-term infants who are having trouble getting enough food in the first few days.

“I was very relieved and very grateful.”

Laura Goodrum had her son in July at the hospital. She had an emergency C-section and it look a while for her own breast milk to come in.

Two days after birth, her son had lost about a pound.

We were tired. I, of course, was emotional, and we felt helpless. We wanted to do whatever it took to get him nourished.”

When the nurses offered donated breast milk, Goodrum accepted with relief. She was hoping to avoid using any formula, which is made from cow’s milk and doesn’t have all the immune system benefits of human milk.

“They brought it in a minute or two, and it soothed him. You know, it was definitely what he needed.”

For the premature babies, doctors say human breast milk can be a life saver.

If the mom can’t provide it by pumping, the hospital provides donor milk if the baby is under 3.3 pounds.

“The science is pretty strong that human milk is best for human babies.”

Necrotizing enterocolitis is a dangerous digestive disease that strikes some premature infants.

Dr. Michael Speer is a neonatologist.

Speer says by using donor milk instead of formula, the hospital has cut the incidence of this disease in half.

As far as safety goes, milk donors are screened for drugs and disease, and the milk is pasteurized at a special lab in California.

Ashley Whitworth Beecher with daughters
Ashley Whitworth Beecher, 29, and her daughters Annie (on lap) and Charlie. After feeding Annie, Beecher donates her extra supply to the human milk bank at Texas Children’s Hospital.

For her part, Ashley Beecher says donating milk has almost become a part-time job, but it’s worth it.

“I sit at a machine anywhere from 4 to 6 times a day, pumping the milk out. The machine takes about 20 minutes and some days I’ll be like ‘I just don’t want to go sit at that pump.’ But then I think ‘If I sit at that pump, maybe that particular donation will help save a baby’s life’ and that’s all the motivation I need.”

To donate, visit this link or call Texas Children’s Hospital at (832) 824-6455.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...