I breastfed both my girls without too much difficulty – so much so, I then had trouble convincing Lil Sis to stop breastfeeding and graduate to the bottle.
Due to the great latching-on advice I received before I left hospital, I never had to deal with mastitis or bleeding nipples, or any of those other horrendous breastfeeding side effects many Mums have to endure.
But I did experience something else – something I’d never heard other Mums talk about. I never said anything about it because I didn’t really know how to describe what I was feeling; I thought people might just think I was a bit strange if I tried.
As soon as the baby latched on this awful feeling of dread and foreboding would flood through me. My stomach would drop, my heart would pound, and I’d feel completely and utterly desolate. To use a bit of Harry Potter terminology, it was like the Dementors were nearby, and were sucking all the light and joy out of the room.
Then, 20 seconds later, that horrible would disappear.
When the same thing happened again after Lil Sis was born, I decided to try and work out what it was. I typed in: ‘Anxious while breastfeeding’. I had to weed through dozens of sites, but eventually, I found something…
It was a post where a blogger named Kim was talking about feeling nauseous, guilty, sad, and generally yucky for the first minute or so of breastfeeding. Then the feelings would just disappear as quickly as they arrived.
She linked back to another site, which talked about a condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex – or D-MER.
Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria. Instead of feeling happy, elated and excited, you feel anxious, depressed, restless, and even disgusted.
As I read down the page, I knew this was exactly what I had been experiencing.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on this condition, or how it affects other people, all I can tell you is how it made me feel. For those few moments, I would feel utterly hopeless – like I had absolutely nothing in life to look forward to anymore. Which wasn’t at all true, as I was totally enamoured with my new baby.
Over the next few weeks, the feelings pretty much disappeared and I forgot all about them – until Lil Sis arrived and they all came flooding back again.
Just like with Big Sis, they gradually lessened over the next eight weeks or so. Bubs is seven months old now so it’s not really a problem anymore, although I still occasionally feel – for lack of a better word – icky for the first few moments of a feed.
Docs still don’t know all the facts about D-MER, since it’s a newly recognised condition and occurs quite rarely, but here’s what I found out about the condition from the support website.
D-MER is a sudden flood of negative feelings at the time of milk release and lasts just a few minutes. It’s physiological condition, but it has nothing to do with the baby blues or post-natal depression.
Symptoms can range from mild anxiety to overwhelmingly sadness; at its most extreme some women even experience suicidal thoughts.
Apparently, it’s to do with the surge of the hormone prolactin required to make your milk flow. Simultaneously your levels of dopamine (known to lift your mood) plummet momentarily, leaving you feeling depressed and despondent until they level out again. This shuffle of hormones happens to all breastfeeding mums, but with D-MER mums the dopamine drop is much more dramatic.
It makes perfect sense you think about all the changes and hormone surges your poor body has to endure after childbirth. It’s reassuring to know there’s a real reason for these strange feelings, and I’m not just going mad!
Well, not from this anyway…
I’d be interested to know if anyone else felt anxious during breastfeeding?
For more information about Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, visit: www.d-mer.org
• I’ve also talked about D-MER in ‘My Breastfeeding Story‘; you might also be interested in reading my opinion piece on ‘Sexism, Stereotypes and Sabotage – why are we our own worst enemies?’.
• photo ‘Mother Holds Feet of Baby‘ courtesy of Shutterstock