When I discovered I was pregnant, I was thrilled, in every sense of the word. As a mother of six, I am well versed in the trials and tribulations of parenthood. I was sure this would be a wild ride. I was also sure this would be my last journey through motherhood. At 39, I felt great but this was it for me. I would be forty the year my precious baby was born.
With my partner was working full time and our family being comfortable, I planned to stay home this time around and I was sure I wanted to breastfeed. My labor and delivery was as straightforward as it could be, we welcomed our bundle into the world and she latched, beautifully, almost immediately.
For the rest of the time I was in the hospital, we cuddled and nursed, without incident. I went home a couple of days later, anticipating my milk, helping it along with some fenugreek tea. All in all it was a beautiful time, I was wrapped in the blissful bubble of motherhood.
When my milk finally came in and I nursed, I felt an intense hopelessness and sadness. It was unexpected but extremely uncomfortable. I chalked it up to postpartum hormones. The feeling lifted after a few moments.
This happened again the next time we nursed and again after that. I would put my child to breast and after a few moments my milk would “let down” and I was overcome and overwhelmed with complete sadness. This sadness would bring me to tears but would then relent after a few minutes.
Over time, these feelings persisted and I began to dread nursing because of it. I thought it could be postpartum depression but the sadness only came during those first few moments of nursing. I spoke to several other moms about this phenomenon but none could fully relate.
Breastfeeding had become a dreaded experience for me because I thought I was broken. I thought I was unable to bond with my child. I thought I was imagining it but, the feelings of sadness were so intense, I was so sure I would have to stop nursing.
My lactation group and my doctors were telling me it could be postpartum depression and giving me resources accordingly. Some told me I might be in denial about having PPD. Everyone was making me feel… insane. I was not sad or depressed any other time except in the first few minutes of nursing.
I took to the internet and did some research.
“Why do I feel sad, only when I am nursing?” lead me to this post from kellymom.com
A small percentage of breastfeeding mothers experience feelings of depression (or anxiety, homesickness, agitation or anger) beginning immediately before their milk lets down. This is called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER. According to D-MER.org, “Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.” This is a physiological response (not a psychological response) that appears to be tied to a sudden decrease in the brain chemical dopamine immediately before milk let-down.
Finally, something that made sense, something that fit.
I set about understanding this condition better.
The mechanics of D-MER are pretty simple, oxytocin triggers the milk ejection reflex but, in D-MER this causes a sharp fall in dopamine, “causing dysphoric, negative feelings, or feelings of depression.”
Understanding how the chemicals in my brain were responding to my lactating body went a long way to helping me tolerate D-MER. It was momentary, as uncomfortable as it was, eventually it lifted and the rest of our nursing was beautifully uneventful.
I sought no medical or homeopathic treatment. I tapped deeply into my very strong village who were surrounding and supporting me. Once my husband, our kids, my friends and family understood what was happening they rallied around me and we got through it. Some are not so lucky, and there are medications and homeopathic treatments that can help.
When there was someone home with me, they kept us company while nursing. If there was no one home, I had a list of friends and family I could call.
These distraction techniques helped, talking, listening to music, reading, or even singing while my milk let down, helped me get through. Of course, some days none of that worked and all I could do was fall into my feelings and weep. Knowing it would pass, got me through the intense emotions in those moments.
All of the research I did suggested this was extremely rare but, I think it may be more common than we think and we just don’t talk about it. We are only now beginning to open up about PPD.
Maybe we just give up nursing because of some “inexplicable” negative feelings about it and never even think to tell anyone. I know I felt ashamed to tell people, what kind of woman feels such ugly feelings about feeding their baby?
I have heard so many women say things like, “I can’t explain it but, breastfeeding just wasn’t for me, it made me feel weird,” and while I accept breastfeeding is not for everyone and support whatever healthful decisions parents make about feeding their children, I can’t help but feel that maybe they just had D-MER and no one knew.
I had never heard of this before, I have had several pregnancies and no doctor or midwife had ever mentioned D-MER before. No doctor or midwife or lactation consultant mentioned it now. It was only upon my own research I discovered it and only when I brought the information to my doctor was it validated as a possibility.
Which is why sharing my experience is so important. I hope my story is a light bulb for other women who might be having this same experience. I want you to know you are not broken or crazy and there are ways you can still enjoy the nursing experience through D-MER. My little one will be two in February and we are still nursing. I no longer experience depression upon let down and haven’t since my milk production dropped to more reasonable levels.
If you need more information on D-MER and treatments options visit the D-MER Org.