A Generous Mom Just Broke a World Record for the Most Breast Milk Ever Donated
After testing dozens of breast pumps over the past nine years to donate nearly 400,000 ounces to babies in need, this mama reveals what she's found liberating.
By Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra as told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen
I argue that all moms are superheroes, but I guess I do have a particular gift. At 35 years old, I’ve recently set a Guinness World Record—for the largest donation of breast milk by an individual. Over the past nine years I’ve donated 1,599.68 liters, the equivalent of 2,253 Venti lattes or 800 two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola. (This amount does not even count the breast milk I’ve donated to-date globally, which is closer to 350,000 ounces.)
Surprised? Me too: I didn’t know that breast milk donation was a possible record. That is, until I was diagnosed with hyperlactation syndrome and was suddenly in the running…whether I wanted to be, or not.
What is hyperlactation syndrome?
Hyperlactation syndrome is also known as HLS, oversupply syndrome or hypergalactia. It’s a relatively rare condition that causes a pregnant or breastfeeding person’s body to produce an excessive amount of milk. It wasn’t something I’d even heard about, much less suspected I had, until I was officially diagnosed after the birth of my firstborn child nine years ago.
I’d started seeing symptoms of hyperlactation syndrome around 14 weeks pregnant when my breasts became really uncomfortable, swelling, and leaking pretty much around the clock. By 20 weeks pregnant, I was already producing upwards of 30 ounces per day. For perspective, an “average” lactating woman produces between 12 and 16 ounces per day—after their baby is born. I was producing double that at barely halfway through my pregnancy.
At first my healthcare team was skeptical when I described my symptoms. However, when they saw it for themselves, it was discovered that I have an enlarged pituitary gland that secretes 10 times the normal amount of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production. I was shocked but grateful that it wasn’t something scary like cancer. And hey, I would be assured to have plenty of milk for my baby (and her two siblings, who would arrive two and five years later), plus some extra to share.
Then they told me the tough news: There is no cure for hyperlactation syndrome. My breast milk will not dry up naturally. There are no medications to stop it. The only way for me to stop producing breast milk (and lots of it) is to have a double mastectomy.
As extreme as the circumstances are, I can’t think about the mastectomy part yet. Since my diagnosis, I have been determined to make the best of a challenging situation. I figured: There are so many infants who need healthy breast milk. Maybe their mothers aren’t present, or the mom has a condition that limits milk production, or is addicted to substances that makes her milk hazardous. There are many reasons some babies benefit from a donor’s supply. Breast milk is important for babies’ digestive systems, immunity and so much more.
Meanwhile, I have to pump continuously regardless, so I decided to try donating the extra milk to babies in need…thousands of them.
Living with hyperlactation syndrome
Living day in and day out super-producing breast milk is quite challenging. My entire life revolves around my condition. I have a pretty rigid pumping schedule I have to stick with—about five hours per day—and I also have to squeeze in washing and sterilizing equipment, portioning out milk and freezing it, communicating with recipients, shipping milk out, and more.
Then there are the personal aspects. I’ve had to change my style of dress, sticking to looser tops to accommodate the pump. I have to maintain hydration and nutrition that could rival an Olympic athlete—I need to eat a whopping 4,500 calories a day! I also still have to do all the regular things, like helping my kids with their homework, going grocery shopping, and doing laundry. The mental load is an acrobatic circus just to manage it all.
The medical toll is high as well. I have to deal with plummeting blood sugar, insufferable headaches, clogged ducts, and mastitis on a regular basis. I’ve had more trips to the ER than I can count and endless doctor’s appointments.
Not to mention the financial burden of all my medical needs, supplements, pumping equipment, freezers, milk bags, and ceaseless grocery runs.
It’s endless: Because of my condition, I can’t just decide, Nah, I don’t feel like pumping today, or I’ll wash and sterilize parts tomorrow. I haven’t had a single day “off” in nine years. It’s exhausting—physically and mentally.
Finding solutions for hyperlaction syndrome
For the first four years, my condition greatly interfered with my other responsibilities, making it difficult or impossible to get things done or go anywhere. Then I was introduced to the BabyBuddha portable breast pump. It’s unlike any breast pump I’ve ever used (and I’ve tried many!). The BabyBuddha delivers hospital-grade consistent suction strength with an incredible battery life. Plus it’s quiet, and the size of a smartphone, for more discreet pumping.
This was life-changing. After being immobile, I’m now able to multitask during the day to do laundry, clean dishes, vacuum, pack milk to freeze, drive my little ones to school, and meal prep, all while pumping. I’ve been able to watch movies in the theater, go to concerts, and even walk around Disney World with my family without worrying about messing up my schedule, missing a pumping session, or being tethered to a wall. Simply put, the BabyBuddha gave me my freedom back.
Sharing the love
The upside of my condition—and it’s a big one—is that I’m literally saving lives. Donating breast milk can play a significant role in saving and enhancing the lives of infants in need, particularly those with medical complications, premature newborns, and babies whose mothers can’t produce enough milk. I love that I can do this for them and it makes all the struggle and cost worth it.
Someday I will have to decide when to have the surgery. For now, this is my journey—rigorous, unrelenting, and overwhelming—but it’s also empowering, inspiring, and it feels good to give something so critical and life-giving.