D-MER – Breastfeeding and feelings of anxiety

Waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of Jenson snuffling around, sucking at his fist hungrily I squeeze my eyes closed hoping he’ll fall back asleep. In the instance that I sense he’s hungry I’m filled with dread and find myself wishing the feeds away; and it was the same with Jasper. It’s not because feeding hurts; not anymore anyway; and it’s not because I don’t enjoy feeding; I love it except for the tiredness and being tied to the spot aspect. What fills me with dread is knowing that every time he latches on I’m overcome with dysphoria; brief dysphoria, but dysphoria nonetheless.

You see every time I feed I experience D-MER – Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex which basically means a brief period of dysphoria that begins upon let down (when the milk travels to the nipple) and lasts anything from 30 seconds to a few minutes into feeding. It’s not a long time I know, and in comparison to mastitis where the pain lasts for the whole feed and then some; it’s really not bad at all but that feeling you get for that brief period of time is like no other. The feeling can come back for every let down but for me it just occurs on the initial one of each feed; so a handful of times a day.

I haven’t been to the doctors for it and even if I had there’s nothing that they could give me. You can’t take medication to make it stop; it is what it is and you simply have to ride it out. I first found out what it was after constantly feeling what I can only describe as homesickness when I fed Jasper. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’d only ever experienced before when I was younger and went to sleepovers at new friends houses. I googled ‘homesick feeling when breastfeeding’ half expecting nothing to show up but to my surprise it was a real thing.

D-MER presents itself as an emotional reaction, a feeling of depression, anxiety and/or anger and also physically as a hollow or churning feeling in the pit of your stomach. The intensity of the emotional feelings vary from woman to woman and could be mild homesickness, restlessness and agitation like I get to severe hopelessness, self-loathing, intense panic and dread or hostility and anger. Luckily my symptoms range on the mild side but with stresses of daily mum life I could certainly be pushed to the more severe side at times.

It’s not really clear why some mums get it and others don’t but one thing that the experts have suggested is that it may be due to a hormonal imbalance. Oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine are all hormones involved in milk production and release. Oxytocin is released as a response to nipple stimulation, overfull breasts and thoughts of your baby/breastfeeding. It travels through your brain and bloodstream causing emotional changes in the brain and the release of milk in your boobs. Prolactin is responsible for continuing the milk production and is released in a gradual wave that peaks after feeding begins. Dopamine is the hormone that inhibits the release of prolactin, and therefore its levels need to drop in order for the prolactin wave to rise. It’s thought that the dopamine drop occurs similarly and at the same time as the oxytocin spike causing a negative image; but in women with D-mER it may drop too low or in a different way causing a negative emotional reaction.

If you suffer from any of these negative feelings or physical symptoms when breastfeeding please be assured it’s not postpartum depression. You can have PPD and D-MER at the same time but they’re in no way linked to each other. D-MER is also not a psychological response to breastfeeding it’s simply a reflex and no reflection on your thoughts towards your baby or feeding.

I’m not sure if it goes away after a few months or if you’re stuck with it throughout your whole breastfeeding journey. I’m also not sure if you have it with every child you breastfeed; but in my case I had it for the whole 3 months that I fed Jasper and so far the 9 weeks I’ve been feeding Jenson.

Like I said there’s no approved medication that you can take but it is suggested that you try to raise your dopamine levels which can be done via a number of herbal medications and prescriptions. I haven’t tried these as I find my own method works for me but if you suffer from it, especially on the more severe side of things then definitely look into them. What I find works well is distracting yourself for that initial feeding period. When I know Jenson wants to feed I either engage in a conversation with someone; browse through my phone or put something on TV. I also try to keep things at hand like snacks, a drink or a book just so that I have something to focus on.

The feeling is horrible but I’ve tried to train myself to understand that it is simply a reflex and doesn’t last long each time so even though I still dread the beginning of each feed; I grab a distraction and get feeding – the quicker I start the quicker it comes and goes and I can enjoy feeding feeling relaxed and happy.

 

Do you or have you previously suffered from this? I’d love to know your experience and any coping strategies you may have?

 

Thanks for reading!
Jess x

 

10 Comments

  • Ellie
    19th October 2016 at 9:29 pm Reply

    I never knew this and it’s so fascinating, a pain in the bum though!
    I always find it so helpful when people talk about things like this, makes it all more normal. Hope that it settles soon for you xxx

    • Jessica
      10th December 2016 at 9:51 pm Reply

      It really does normalise problems that otherwise go unknown; so many women have said to me that they have this but never knew what it was before. I’ve even spoken to the HV about it and she didn’t know which is crazy!

  • mummyburgessKay
    19th October 2016 at 9:51 pm Reply

    OMG, Why have I never heard of this?! Because at almost 14 months of feeding Henry, I’m pretty sure I have it. I have never said anything to ANYONE because I thought I was going bonkers and it was just my anxiety creeping back into my life and never even thought of googling. Thank you so much for sharing Jess. When he wakes for his feed in the night, I’ll hopefully go back to sleep feeling a little better that I’m not just some weirdo mum who is an anxious feeder xxxx

    • Jessica
      10th December 2016 at 9:52 pm Reply

      I’m so glad you’ve said this lovely; I’ve had lots of women say the exact same so it really is so common! I can’t understand why HV’s don’t tell us about it because although mine is mild I know in many women it can be really severe and can stop you from wanting to feed x

  • Lucy
    20th October 2016 at 6:09 am Reply

    Oh Jess, this sounds so hard, and so unfair. You are doing such an amazing thing for Jenson, and also for you, and the fact that it makes you feel like that (albeit briefly) is just rubbish. Hormones are crazy crazy things sometimes aren’t they? I never remember even really noticing let down when I was feeding Dylan, and while I do know this time, it’s not particularly noticeable or anything to write home about. But when I was feeding Everly in the earliest months I used to get this really intense feeling during letdown, I used to feel kind of drugged; I’d get this really strong wave of love come over me, but then would feel really sleepy and a bit dopey. I could barely string a sentence for the first minute or so of a feed. And Rich used to say I got this weird look on my face sometimes. Obviously what I was feeling was different to you, but it was still definitely let down, and hormone, related. It definitely eased for me a bit as the months passed, or maybe I just got used to it, and she gradually fed less so I didn’t notice as much. I’m glad you’ve found some ways to manage it for you. I had no idea that this could even happen. x

    • Jessica
      10th December 2016 at 10:04 pm Reply

      Oh wow Lucy that sounds really intense; kind of like your’e baby drunk! It is so so crazy what these hormones can do to us isn’t it? The feeling has definitely started to go now and weirdly I get itchy armpits now instead haha

  • Hannah Budding Smiles
    20th October 2016 at 7:24 am Reply

    I’ve never heard of this before darling and I’m sorry you’ve got it but well done for finding coping mechanisms. I’ve shared your post on my FB page because I’m sure it could really help mamas out there who are worried xx

    • Jessica
      10th December 2016 at 10:08 pm Reply

      Thank you lovely and thanks so much for sharing x

  • Amy
    29th October 2016 at 9:18 pm Reply

    Oh I had never heard of this before! Well done you for feeding through it and I hope it passes for you xo

    • Jessica
      9th November 2016 at 9:24 pm Reply

      Thanks Amy; it’s surprisingly common just for some reason not really spoken about x

Leave a Reply

Hi I’m Jess, Single Mum, Accredited Life Coach, NLP Practitioner and Beauty Business owner.

I chat about all thing female empowerment, spirituality and positivity

Categories