Sharing this article is super exciting for us but first let us tell you more about our guest author. We reached out to Rebecca after seeing her beautiful picture and read her short version of a true act of motherly love on her Instagram account: @rawfullywholesome. She is a devoted wife, mother of two beautiful princesses Caprice, 3 & Haven, 1. She is passionate vegan and an advocate of a healthful lifestyle who loves sharing her passion for healthy living in social media. We knew we had to have her share with us her unique yet loving story for all of our readers so we asked her:
How did you go from exclusively breastfeeding to exclusively hand expressing?
It all started when we moved home to Australia, from California only 7 weeks after giving birth to my sweet Haven; our second daughter. You see, Haven came into the world, peacefully, in the water, in the comfort of our home. Breastfeeding had been effortless and beautiful since the beginning. I had an abundance of milk, and her latch was great. She had a tongue and lip tie which I self-diagnosed at a few days old, and she had them clipped at 5 days old. Everything from then on was simply perfect.
That is, until we moved home…
The move was rough on us all, but especially me; you know, with post-partum hormones and all. We kind of moved home kicking and screaming, and then to make matters worse, we moved in with my in-laws. Enough said. Without going into full-blown detail, it was a really tough transition for me.
The pressure of trying to live up to certain expectations, and trying to keep my family together, and keep my sanity, through constant invasion of privacy and the complete overstepping of boundaries, as well as grieving the loss of our life we had left behind, quickly took its toll on me.
My let downs began stopping at night, just weeks into moving home. Night-time feedings became stressful, and, for the first time since she was born, I was barely getting any sleep.
I had developed chronic anxiety, and was having major anxiety attacks, just about every day. I had never experienced anxiety before, but my husband had. Thank God for him. He understood what I was going through and could empathize with me, and somewhat help me through many of the attacks.
My letdowns then started to stop during the day. It would take anywhere from 10 up to 20 minutes, to trigger a letdown. Luckily Haven was still young enough that she would continue sucking (in between pulling off and crying in frustration), waiting for that strong gush of milk, she was so used to. Eventually it would come, but it wasn’t long before they completely stopped.
The one thing that I truly cared about my body doing properly, had failed on me. I was an emotional wreck, day in and day out. Before the letdowns had completely stopped, in my desperation, I had contacted a friend in New York, The Milkin Mama and asked her to teach me how to hand express, because the pump wasn’t removing any milk, because, again, I wasn’t getting any letdowns. My only hope for providing breastmilk to Haven, was through hand expression.
Five to six times a day I hand expressed breastmilk for my now 12 month baby girl. A bottle of milk made with lots of love, time and effort.
I continued to breastfeed Haven for as long as she would take it, until she was completely frustrated, and then I’d switch her to the bottle. She was getting milk, when she breastfed, but not much, and it wasn’t coming out fast and hard like she was used to. My life became devoted to hand expressing enough milk for her needs, continuing to try to keep her at the breast, and figure out what could have caused my letdowns to stop.
I knew my anxiety played a role, but I needed to get to the root of the cause and fix it. So I went to see Lactation consultants and naturopathic doctors. Nobody really, truly helped me, except for one naturopathic doctor, who, after a very detailed examination of my diet, lifestyle and situation, said my symptoms sounded a lot like Pyrrole Disorder.
I had the appropriate tests done, and it came back positive. Pyrrole Disorder is a biochemical imbalance involving an abnormality in hemoglobin synthesis, that can be purely genetic, or acquired through environmental or emotional stress.
My body was overproducing hydroxyhempyrolin (HPL), which binds to zinc and B6, preventing their use by the body and causing excretion in the urine and hair. HPL is a biomarker for oxidative stress and is neurotoxic. Stress of any kind will increases production of pyrroles/HPL which in turn decreases zinc and B6.
Zinc and B6 are essential for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin (our happy hormone), melatonin (our sleep hormone), GABA (our relaxation hormone), which in turn, affects oxytocin (that beautiful love hormone, which triggers the letdown response in the body).
So the more stressed and anxious I was, the worse my condition got, and the worse my condition got, the more anxious and stressed I became. It was a vicious cycle but I was optimistic, and believed this diagnosis, and treatment to follow, was the answer to everything.
Wrong. While the compounded formula of vitamins and minerals, that the naturopath put me on, plus moving into our own place, helped to bring my letdowns back on occasion, little Haven had grown accustom to the instant gratification that the bottle provided. I would get letdowns at the most random times, and I would jump with excitement and latch Haven. She would generally suck for 30 seconds to a minute, and then pull off, push against me and cry if I tried to get her to latch again.
I would then start hand expressing. It was heart breaking. The rejection was crippling. My days were spent hand expressing, crying over how long it took me to hand express. Trying to get Haven to feed, and then crying over her resistance to me and not wanting to feed from me. And let’s not forget that somehow I had to take care of a two-year-old, amongst all of this.
I thought that if I could just get my letdowns to return, full time, that all would be perfect again, and Haven would go back to breastfeeding, and I would get the one thing, I truly cared about – breastfeeding my infant, into toddler-hood. But that never happened.
The road has been long and hard. I continued to latch Haven to me, whenever she was hungry. I would keep on attempting to breastfeed, until she was absolutely distraught, and then I would give her the bottle. Maybe that was the problem?.
I just so desperately wanted that closeness back. That physical connection, that only a breastfeeding mother will understand. At 7 months old, she fed from me for the last time. She was done. I continued to try to win her back with every single piece of advice I was given from multiple Lactation Consultants, and women who had been through anything similar. I continued to offer breast before bottle, but she wouldn’t even latch anymore.
She would just scream and resist and push against me, arching her back, away from my exposed chest. I was officially hand expressing exclusively (although I’d been doing it since she was not even 3 months old).
I wish more than anything, that I was breastfeeding, and dealing with the rejection has been the HARDEST, most emotionally draining thing, I have ever endured. But I’m proud of the fact that, at 12 months old, and having not had a full feed from my breasts in 9 months, that she’s still receiving my milk. It’s hard, it’s tiring, hand expressing takes SO much time out of my day, but she’s worth it. She is worth it. And it won’t be forever.
One day, she won’t need my milk anymore, and I will be forever thankful that she was able to get it for as long as she did. I don’t have a ton of photos and videos of Haven breastfeeding, and that tears me up, but what I do have, I will cherish, forever.
Whatever your situation is , all you can do, is try everything in your power to make it work.
Breastfeeding is worth it, I encourage you not to give up, but if it still doesn’t work out, it’s not your fault. Go, mama, for trying so hard! And just know, that NO ONE else knows your story. No one else knows your struggles. Forget about the filthy, judgey stares, and do what you gotta do – which is FEED your baby. If that means with a bottle, then so be it!
It took me SO long not to care what people thought when I would give Haven a bottle in public, and I’d find myself explaining myself to people, and telling them she was drinking breastmilk and that she had rejected me. How sad that we live in a society where we even feel that we need to justify ourselves, like that. To me it’s just wrong.
I am still a true breastfeeding advocate, even though it didn’t work out for me, and I’m the super creep in the streets, staring at the mamas publicly breastfeeding their babies – because I think it’s the most beautiful thing we as women experience, and I’m jealous, all at the same time.
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