In Beaverton, Oregon, there resides a mother with a very unusual condition.
Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra suffers from hyper lactation syndrome, which means that she produces lots and lots of breast milk. In her case, almost two gallons a day.
Instead of cursing mother nature for this extremely time consuming condition, the mom has decided to turn her hyper lactation syndrome into a force for good: by feeding hungry babies with her milk.
Her story was spread on the popular Facebook page, Breastfeeding Mama Talk, where she went into full detail about the tiresome process of breastfeeding so much milk, along with the economics of producing so much.
“I’ve been donating for 2.5 years now. When I was pregnant with my firstborn I started researching milk donation and pumping. I had no idea how my body would produce and zero experience on anything. I just knew it was something I wanted to do. I’ve donated blood for years because my blood type is rare, so I wanted to continue donating something while breastfeeding. I started pumping a week after giving birth and connected with other donor Mamas to get tips and information on pumping and donating.
I signed up with Tiny Treasures Milk Bank and went through their very strict (for a good reason) process to donate to them. I researched what they do and their mission, helping micro preemies who’s odds of survival drastically improved when given a breastmilk fortifier vs a formula fortifier. They are also involved with cancer research and breastmilk and it hit home hard. I’ve lost so much family to cancer. I do believe breastmilk will further cancer research.
I’m now 6 months postpartum with my second daughter and I’m pumping an average of 225 oz a day on top of breastfeeding my baby. That’s 1.75 gallons a day. To date I’ve donated over 70,000 oz. About half is sent to a milk bank and half to local Mamas. The milk bank I donate to provides bags for their donations and pays $1 per oz of qualified milk. The milk is 100% donated, and I’m payed per oz as a measure of my time. These funds are taxed. I lose about 50% of that. Donating to a milk bank has helped offset costs of donating locally, and pumping in general.
Pumping is EXPENSIVE!
I have burned through 8 medela pumps and I’ve invested in two Symphony pumps as well as Spectra and PJs comfort. Pumps are not cheap. I buy milk bags for milk donated locally, I estimate I use 20-40 bags a day depending on how much milk I put in them. I need pumping bras for good support and compression, one at each pumping station and I wash them every day or every other day to maintain cleanliness. Breast pads, changed out at every pump that adds up quick. I use the disposable pads because cloth can harbor bacteria. Nipple creams are another expense. I replace my pump parts and bottles approximately every 3 months or when wear starts to degrade them in order to keep up with donation standards. I spend a lot of time washing and sterilizing my pump parts (water, distilled water, de-scaling powder, soap, bottle brushes, pump part brushes, sterilizers and vinegar are some of the costs there) in order to donate to micro-preemies. Their tiny systems cannot have any bad bacteria strains introduced to them. I keep 3 sterilizers and 10 sets of pump parts in rotation.
I also have 3 freezers I use for milk storage till it is donated or shipped out. I pay for the space they take up and the electricity it takes to keep them at the coldest settings possible.
Food! All those extra calories I need, and bottled water with added electrolytes. The grocery bill is a little outrageous at times!
Probably the most expensive price I pay in order to donate milk is my time. My time spent washing and sterilizing, setup and breakdown to pump, actual pumping, bagging milk, weighing the milk, labeling, laying out to freeze, organizing, and storing the milk. Time spent keeping up with my milk bank qualification, and organizing local donations. This is time away from my family, my kids! I also can’t just take a day off… I can’t even take a pump off!
I’m not complaining, this is my choice and I truly love what I do. But I feel the donors side is rarely talked about. Many mothers want me to just give my milk freely to them when they cannot provide enough simply because I have so much. Yes I do have a lot to give, but I can’t freely feed all the babies.”
Anderson-Serra’s now a full-time breast milk donor and said in an interview with People that she made the decision to go with it full-time after the birth of her second daughter, Sophia. Her 30-hour labor required her to feed her baby with donated breast milk as she was exhausted and she wants to help other moms who might undergo similar struggles.