This is the story of my 3rd breastfeeding experience. I don’t intend to scare anyone away from breastfeeding - it was still a wonderful experience overall and I miss having that connection often. It was a beautiful challenge that helped me grow in a lot of ways and I wouldn't have done it any other way. I'm glad I found a way to work through it so I could continue breastfeeding my baby.
My goal is to bring more light to a condition that isn’t very well known, so that others can find the help and support they need, and have a starting point to become more educated on what they’re experiencing.
The homebirth of my last baby was everything I'd wanted. I was so happy to have her here, and to have a midwife who supported my choices, who sat by and allowed me the space to do my thing. She observed, while ready to assist when needed.
About a month or two after I started breastfeeding, I began to recognize there were specific times when I felt really depressed. More so than what was normal. It seemed to come and go, and I still couldn’t pinpoint what caused it. Around this time I also received some devastating news from a family member and was grieving and distraught- so much so that getting out of bed was a struggle. If I was already a hot mess after having a baby, this certainly didn’t help. In fact, it was harder to notice the difference between how I was feeling already, with the moments when the depression was amplified from the D-MER.
Slowly, I began to notice a pattern. I noticed it happened a lot while nursing, but I figured that was because I was sitting with not much else to do but stew over the things that felt so cruddy. Eventually I realized that it was definitely worse during a feeding. It felt like impending doom(and I’m not just being dramatic! I half expected a creepy theme song to start up any minute. Okay, not really. But it would have been a fitting addition.) During these times it seemed the world was a big pile of awfulness. I was positive nothing would ever make me feel happy again, and the grief I felt from my family struggles felt beyond overwhelming. I would cry while I nursed and silent tears fell on my baby’s cheeks, as she looked up at me completely innocently while she ate. She was calm, and unaffected- to her, all was well with the world.
I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. I thought breastfeeding was supposed to be a bonding, lovely experience. The oxytocin was supposed to help me feel happy, and close to my baby! That’s what everything said! I knew something wasn’t right.
At one point I decided to do some research, and somehow my struggles with breastfeeding came up when I was talking to a friend, who told me to look into a condition called D-MER, or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. All it took was a quick google search to realize I’d found the answer. The terror-that-could-not-be-named....had a name!
What is D-MER?
“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.
Preliminary testing shows that D-MER is treatable if severe and preliminary investigation shows that inappropriate dopamine activity at the time of the milk ejection reflex is the cause of D-MER.
Dysphoria is defined as an unpleasant or uncomfortable mood, such as sadness, depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, or restlessness. Etymologically, it is the opposite of euphoria.”
- D-MER website
Basically, something happens during letdown that drops dopamine levels dramatically. Dopamine is what gives us pleasant feelings, and regulates emotions. Low dopamine contributes to fatigue, mood swings, depression, etc.
Once I had a name for it, and I knew that it wasn’t something that I was doing wrong, I immediately felt a lot better. I wasn’t terrible at bonding with my baby! What a relief. Just knowing what it was brought me so much comfort. From there, I worked on ways to manage it, and to help bring back some of the joy I was hoping to have in my experiences with breastfeeding.
Ways to cope with D-MER
- You probably know what I’m going to say first. Yep, get help from a professional! When calling around, ask them about D-MER and see what kind of experience they have in helping clients who’ve dealt with it. Start your search for lactation support here.
- Visit this non-profit D-MER website for information on natural and medical treatments, depending on the severity.
- Set boundaries for yourself of what you will and won’t dwell on while nursing. Some topics may be completely off the table. I’m generally not a fan of avoiding emotions, but this is not the time to process heavy things. Set these feelings aside to process outside of nursing sessions, when you are feeling more balanced, and can focus on taking care of yourself. Above all the other things I tried, this helped the most.
- Play soothing, uplifting music that helps you feel more relaxed and at ease before the start of a feeding. Set the tone beforehand.
- Nurse with company. Sit with another one of your children(Or a partner, friend, or other family member) while you breastfeed and tell them about a fun vacation you’ve had together, or your favorite thing to do with them. This won’t always be an option, but if you can have someone to talk to for some of the time, it may help.
- Talk to your baby. Tell her/him about your hopes and dreams for them. Why did you choose their name? What are you most looking forward to in the first year of their life?
These suggestions may not always help, and most likely they won't completely solve your struggles, but there is some merit to trying to manage D-MER naturally before trying medication. In any case, certainly don't delay getting the help you need! The most important thing you and your baby need is a healthy, happy mother.
If all else fails, have some chocolate. We could debate whether it’s actually proven to boost happiness, but I know it works for me. Seems like it's at least worth a try, don't you think?
Callie teaches Birth Boot Camp Childbirth Classes and serves clients as a birth doula in Flower Mound and Denton County, TX. Some of her favorite things are birth, Brene Brown, her three precocious little girls, making new creations for her family or Etsy shop, and stashing treats in her closet for a rainy day. You can check out other posts on her blog or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.