Monday, December 6, 2010

Something Important

Since giving birth to Violet 4 years ago, and beginning my own experiences with breastfeeding, I have been on a journey that not many women have experienced. Here's how I finally googled it: "Why do I feel so sad when I breastfeed?"

I read a lot of books and articles on breastfeeding, heard a lot of chatter from friends, all full of the gushing warmth of how special the bond was, how amazing the rush of hormones....the preciousness, the glow, etc. I usually just nodded and thought, "I've got to get in better tune with my feelings about this." I'm usually one to push aside discomfort rather than confront and define it.

What I experienced during breastfeeding was a rush of sadness, deeply painful vulnerability, hopelessness.....and a lot of other negative emotions. I struggled hard to control these feelings and not let them affect my feelings towards my babies.....but I couldn't help just pulling them off my breast after a certain amount of time. Both my girls learned to be super-fast nursers.

I never put it into words.....until the other night. I definitely tend to be slow about these kinds of things. It may seem ridiculous, but after 12 months of breastfeeding Violet, and 6 months of breastfeeding Grace, I finally asked the question, "Is this normal?" Turns out, it's not. Or at least, it's not "healthy" normal. It happens to other women. It's called, D-MER. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. And people should know about it. If you're reading this, please tuck away this information and be ready to pull it out in conversation if someone you know mentions something about dysphoria during nursing. It helps to know you're not crazy. :)

Here's the link

Here's some basic information.

Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a newly recognized condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions that occur just before milk release and continuing not more then a few minutes. The negative emotions, or dysphoria, that a mother with D-MER experiences oftenmanifest "in the mother's stomach" - a hollow feeling, a feeling like there is something in the pit of the stomach, or an emotional churning in the stomach. Mothers report varying types of emotions with D-MER ranging from dread to anxiety to anger, these emotions fall on the D-MER spectrum which has three different levels. The common thread between these levels, is the wave of negative emotions or dysphoria, prior to letdown, when nursing, expressing and with spontaneous letdowns, that then lifts within another 30-90 seconds, and then usually repeats with each letdown.

A key piece of D-MER is that a mother with D-MER feels absolutely fine except just before her milk starts to flow. D-MER is a brief feeling, not more than 30 seconds to 2 minutes, only and always beginning before let-down. This is not postpartum depression and most of these mothers feel perfectly fine except for that pre-milk moment. A brief interval after the negative feelings appear, the milk begins to flow.

Simply put: D-MER is physiological, not psychological. It is hormones, not past experience or repressed memories, that cause it.

We're quite sure now that D-MER is linked to a drop in dopamine that seems to occur whenever milk is released. In a mother with D-MER at the time of letdown dopamine falls inappropriately, causing negative feelings. All of the suggestions made for treating D-MER are based on our belief that transiently inadequate dopamine is responsible.


Herb of Grace said...

Yep. I have this too. Although it doesn't continue through the entire first year of nursing. I just assumed it was a normal hormonal reaction associated with the letdown, though, since all those warm-fuzzy feelings usually follow shortly after... When Sofi was a baby (and I think I've told you about this before) I'd often burst into tears when she latched on-- causing Jeremiah great distress. We both eventually figured out it was just a temporary reaction and not based in reality :)

Huh. Good to know.

Denise said...

Wow, Susi. I WILL certainly log this away. I'm sorry I'd never heard of it before. I think something like that should be taught in all breastfeeding books, otherwise how's a mother to know what is going on with her?

I am sorry you experience this. It sounds really sad. I hope that whatever you need to do, whether continue nursing or not, that you have peace about it!

Love you guys!

Rachel said...

While I can't say that my feelings are quite as extreme as you are describing, but I certainly don't have a huge happiness from breastfeeding. It feels like something I have to do for my child because I know it's best for them and so I do it. Lots of women talk about loving to nurse, how wonderful it is and the bond they have between them and baby. I can honestly say I have never experienced that! For me it's always been 'the quicker the better' and all my nursers have been pretty quick, probably because of me! I tried so hard with Shepard to Really Enjoy it as best I could, but honestly, not much changed. I've tried going to monthly LLL meetings and that has helped some, at least it helps keep me focused on why I do it. But I never do nurse past 12 months because I just simply don't want to do it anymore!
I don't know, maybe this is a milder form of what you've described... I hope you'll be able to find away around this somehow and at least get in the last 6 months with Grace... Thinking of you!!

Laura said...

Getting caught up with blogs... Wow, Susi, I can honestly say I've never heard of this. But as I'm getting ready for my first baby in May, I am glad to have the heads up. I really want to breastfeed and really want it to go well, so thanks for sharing this. I'll know it's not just me if the same thing happens when I nurse. I just want to commend you on getting through 12 months with Violet and 6 months already with Grace with these negative feelings! Most people I know would have given up way before now. You truly are putting your girls ahead of your own feelings. Thanks for sharing.