I hope you’ve had a good couple of weeks. Me, I’ve been really struggling with a threenager who has anger issues and taking things out on his little sister and an almost 14 month old who is getting over a cold, teething, trying to walk and talk but can’t and generally trying to be a grownup. It’s really been pushing me to my limits most days and I’ve been feeling like a pretty rubbish parent most of the time.
I’ve been trying to take a little bit of time for myself, going for a walk in the afternoon, I’ve had a couple of massages and I talk about it a lot. Even though sharing with people doesn’t often change anything, it does help knowing you are not alone.
During my breastfeeding journey, I felt really alone. My daughter is now weaned but when I was feeding her, I suffered from a condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. I wrote an article about it when I was still feeding her. My hope it that the more people know about it, they more they might recognise it in themselves, their partner or their friend.
It took me two babies to work out that something wasn’t quite right with my breastfeeding experience.
I remember very clearly, sitting on the edge of my bed one night, attaching the pump to express, turning it on and feeling lousy. Something niggled in my brain. I reflected to my husband that I hated expressing. He replied that he knew, I’d said it last night as well. Something niggled again but the tiredness took over. Oh man, the tiredness when you have a toddler and a newborn, it’s like no other tiredness.
The next day I was hanging out the washing and felt a wave of sadness and vividly remember thinking ‘I’m about to cry’. However the feeling passed and about 30-60 seconds later, I had a spontaneous milk let down. I vaguely remembered reading something about women who experienced low feelings when breastfeeding. I had read about it when I was a new mum, first time round. I grabbed my phone and googled ‘sad feeling when expressing’.
There it was. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex or D-MER. It’s a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release (let down) and continuing not more than a few minutes. Before milk is released, the levels of a hormone called prolactin begin to rise. Dopamine helps control the secretion of prolactin so dopamine levels must briefly decrease for prolactin to rise. As prolactin slowly increases, dopamine stabilizes.
Dopamine is known to affect your mood but with women with D-MER it doesn’t work exactly as it should. It drops quickly and then slowly stabilizes, hence the sudden onset of negative feelings then complete disappearance of these feelings.
As the days passed, I became more and more convinced that I had this condition but I wanted to get diagnosed properly. I happened to be at the doctors with my son and asked my GP about it. She is also a Lactation Consultant but had not heard of the condition. I emailed my MCHN and asked her about it. She rang and said she’d only had one mum in 15 years with it and she didn’t know much about it either but directed me to www.d-mer.org and the ABA. I realised I wasn’t going to get ‘diagnosed’ but just needed to accept that this was what I had and to work out how I was going to deal with it.
D-MER has a huge spectrum when it comes to the associated negative feelings. The emotion can be mild or extremely severe. I’ve read blogs about women who wanted to throw their babies from their bodies or had panic attack symptoms when breastfeeding. Thankfully I am in the mild category, however it’s still an unpleasant experience to have.
With me, my spontaneous let downs are the hardest. I don’t have the loved up feeling of having my baby girl in my arms so my drop in hormones is more severe. It’s the strangest feeling and I’ve tried many times to explain it. I started out describing it as an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, like driving down a dip in the road. It is sometimes accompanied by nausea if I’m quite dehydrated. I recently read someone describe it as the feeling of being extremely homesick and that resonated with me.
It hits quickly, and even though it happens many times a day, my brain always takes a moment to catch up. Depending on what I’m doing depends on my thought process. If I’m about to eat, I often feel sick and not hungry. If I am about to cook dinner, I immediately decide not to cook tonight. If my son is climbing on me while I feed my daughter, I feel like I need my space desperately. I feel sad, I feel hopeless and vulnerable. I feel like I want to curl up in bed and give up on everything. Just as I realize what is happening, it stops and then around a minute later, my milk lets down.
I’ve found that it’s quite a lonely disorder to have, no one I know has heard of it and I’ve never met anyone else with it. But there are others out there and whilst I’m sad other women have to experience this, it does make me feel less alone. It will stop once my daughter is weaned but I won’t hurry the process. I still enjoy breastfeeding and bonding with my baby, it just comes with an extra challenge for me.
Motherhood is an intense rollercoaster but we are never completely alone. There are women all over the world that are doing what we are doing and that connects us all. Have a good couple of weeks and I’ll talk to you again soon.
Learn more about breastfeeding here.