Breastfeeding—it’s a joy and a pain and sometimes it’s not an option for a mother and her baby. But so many people tout the benefits of breastfeeding that, when it doesn’t happen for a new mom, it can be yet another source of stress. On top of that, formula can be extremely expensive. That’s where Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra comes in: Since 2015, she has donated more than 78,000 ounces (609 gallons!) of breast milk to those in need.
If this seems impossible, that’s because Anderson-Sierra is not your average nursing mother. She has hyperlactation syndrome, an oversupply of breast milk. This is when a mother produces far more than her baby needs. Currently, Anderson-Sierra pumps about 1.75 gallons a day, almost 10 times the average 27 ounces a nursing mother produces.
Anderson-Sierra’s donations started in December 2014, after she had her first daughter, Isabella. As she nursed and pumped daily to increase her supply so she could donate, her milk “seemed to be almost doubling every other day,” she told TODAY. Soon, she had a massive stock and saved it in the freezer.
By February of 2015, Anderson-Sierra began donating her frozen breast milk directly to other families in her Beaverton, Oregon, area. But costs started to add up—her family was operating four freezers and four hospital-grade pumps. So she left the home-grown business and began donating to Tiny Treasures Milk Bank, a company that supplies breast milk to make a variety of products for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units.
The company provides Anderson-Sierra with storage bags and she is reimbursed $1 for qualified milk that she donates to the local milk bank. She says the taxable income goes right back into paying for her pumping efforts. She typically breaks even or loses money, but she doesn’t mind.
“It is an extremely generous act that she’s made that commitment,” Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician and breastfeeding expert, told TODAY. “And as long as the milk is processed and analyzed, it can be useful for so many babies, particularly those most vulnerable, the babies in the NICU.”
Since she now produces so much, Elisabeth splits her breast milk supplies between the bank and local families, whom she supplies free of charge.
“I do what I do to give back to my community and to save the lives of babies that would have a higher mortality rate without breast milk,” she told TODAY. “I think that everybody should, in order to have that sense of community…This is what I do. This is the gift I’ve been given. This is the gift that I can share.”