Not many people can say that they are making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, but 30-year-old Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra of Beaverton, Oregon is well on her way, with a very significant contribution:
As of June 19, 2018, the military veteran and mother of two daughters — Isabella, 3 1/2, and Sophia, 1 1/2 — donated 53,535 ounces of breast milk to a milk bank, beating out the current world record of 53,081 ounces donated. In a celebratory post on her Facebook page, One Ounce at a Time, Anderson-Sierra described how that single number represented 700 days of pumping and 5,000 hours of washing, packing, and all things strictly milk-related, along with a whole lot of love.
Anderson-Sierra, who tells Babble that she has been pumping breast milk for her own two daughters for over 3 years and 10 months, began donating her own milk a little over 3 1/2 years ago. She spends at least 5 hours a day strictly pumping and up to 8 hours in a single day performing other related duties, such as washing, sterilizing, packaging, freezing, and setting up her donations.
For Anderson-Sierra, pumping is, quite literally, a full-time job and she relies on company sponsors and donations to support the estimated $3,500 it costs to maintain and donate her supply. She explains that since her early days working in the U.S. Coast Guard, she has always been “very involved” with giving back and “furthering humanity,” so when she became pregnant, she knew that milk donation was something she would want to try in order to continue to help others.
“It’s very much a part of who I am,” she notes. “[It’s] engrained in me.”
Little did Anderson-Sierra know, however, that she would have hyperlactation syndrome, a condition that causes her body to produce excess breast milk, enabling her to help hundreds of babies throughout the years. To date, she has actually donated a total of 120,000 ounces of breast milk, with about half of her milk donations going to a milk bank and the rest as private, mother-to-mother donations.
Going after the world record was something that Anderson-Sierra explains started out as a “joke” between her husband, 53-year-old David Sierra, a retired veteran and current public safety officer for Portland Community College, and their friends. But as she continued to donate milk in mind-boggling amounts, they soon realized the record was attainable and Anderson-Sierra made it a personal goal to reach it.
“The mindset I have is not to chase down and break records, but to strive to be an example in the milk-sharing world and break the stigma,” she says.
The milk-making mama explains that her record hasn’t been submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records just yet, because it will require requesting her donation total from the milk bank and submitting it; but because she is still actively donating, she is continuing to break her own record.
“For me, it’s exciting to see the numbers, but even more exciting to think of all the babies and families I’ve been able to help,” she says.
Anderson-Sierra’s milk has been able to help countless infants, including micropreemies who require breast milk for optimal nutrition, and babies like Joaquín from Puerto Rico, who was considered dead for eight minutes after his mother died in childbirth. He spent a month in the NICU and has thrived thanks to breast milk donations through Prolacta, an organization that supplies breast milk to babies in critical need. Without donations, breast milk for a baby like Joaquín can cost upwards of $750 per week. Anderson-Sierra says that hearing that her donations made such a difference in his life “touched her heart” and she has added meeting baby Joaquín to her bucket list.
Despite the reward of knowing that she helping save the lives of babies, Anderson-Sierra admits that donating as much milk as she does is a constant challenge to not only her, but to family and friends as well. She explains that she hasn’t had as much as half of a day off in almost four years.
“Everything revolves around the ball-and-chain pump,” she adds. “There have been so many times I’ve broken down and hated everything about it. Wanting to quit and get my life back.”
In the end, however, she is able to keep pushing forward, thanks to the support of the followers and the milk donation community she has built along the way, as well as the real-life example of the benefits that breast milk can bring. Not only that, but according to Anderson-Sierra, despite unofficially breaking the world record for breast milk donations to a milk bank, she’s just getting started.
What’s next for the Wonder Woman of breast milk? I guess we will just have to wait and see.