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!