Oh no, not another complaining post. I promise my next post will be a bit more sunshiney and rosey :).
Before giving birth I’d mentioned that I wanted to do a post about breastfeeding. At the time I was petrified of the concept. I absolutely was not interested but I didn’t know how to articulate it without sounding ridiculous. I went to two breastfeeding classes to prepare myself and I even told the teachers about my fears but no one helped. They just said, you’ll get over it… Gee, Thanks guys.
Sad to say, I was in the “no breastfeeding in public” group. Wait wait, let me clarify before you unfollow. I fully defend everyone’s right to breastfeed in public. I’ll go to the protests and I’ll fight our rights to do so but it always made me uncomfortable.
For me, breasts were sexual so it just made me uncomfortable thinking about them differently. And I didn’t buy that I would just get over it.
Thankfully, when Lucky was born, I was quite drugged up I didn’t have any emotion. So all the fear and creeped out feelings were gone. The nurses were a little forceful with my breast and his little head but at the time I really couldn’t be bothered. I remember him screaming and not getting it initially, poor guy.
I was one of the lucky ones though, despite my initial unwillingness to breastfeed. My milk came in on day 3 and he was doing really well by the time we left. But did I suddenly love breastfeeding? Nope. I still had no feelings about it. Bad or good. It was like I was on autopilot.
About a month into breastfeeding it became very easy and even enjoyable at times. It felt amazing to be able to be the only one who could calm him down. I was the most important person in his life and that was awesome.
Around month 2 everything changed again. Thrush, engorgement, pain pain pain. I was in tears almost every night for about 3 weeks. I just hated it but I couldn’t quit. I felt like the minute I quit he would get seriously ill or he would hate me. That mind game is something else, let me tell you.
Eventually the pain stopped and my body regulated but then something else happened. I started feeling dirty every time I breastfed or pumped. Dirty and full of shame and disgust. Like I was doing something extremely sexually perverse. But it only lasted a few seconds just at the beginning. The feeling was so deep and dark and disturbing and it made me sick to my stomach. Why did something so natural feel so wrong?
After a little while I started feeling it randomly throughout the day. Out of nowhere. If I was eating I would instantly lose my appetite and this terrible feeling of shame and disgust would wash over me for a few seconds and then I would feel a tingling at the top of my breasts. A slightly painful tingling.
I knew this shameful feeling though. I sometimes felt it after sex. Just for a short while. I would just feel awful and wrong and dirty. Why was it happening now?
I tried to ignore it but it was getting worse. But I still I could not quit breastfeeding. This incredibly awful experience was being trumped by guilt. He would most assuredly fall seriously ill if I stopped.
Sometimes while lying in bed I would scroll through Kellymom.com, the breastfeeding site, and I stumbled across a post about letdown. I’ve heard the term but I never really understood it. Letdown is when you breast fill up with milk and it’s usually triggered by hearing a baby cry or laugh or seeing your baby or nipple stimulation. It feels like pins and needles trickling from the top of your breast down. I finally figured out what it was. And then the last line jumped out at me. (paraphrasing) “Some women experience negative feelings just before a letdown”.
What? Really? That was me! I was some women!
I decided to do some digging. Searching terms like “anxiety before letdown”… “feeling dirty before letdown”.
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER, is quite simply a condition where lactating women feel negative feelings a few minutes/seconds before a letdown and it goes away shortly after as if nothing happened.
Feelings like sadness, anxiety, irritability etc. the opposite of euphoria.
It is a reflex, so there is nothing I can do to control it since it’s controlled by hormones and anecdotal evidence shows that it’s controlled by dopamine. The way I understand it is that you need prolactin to produce milk and to increase prolactin you need dopamine to drop. This sudden or irregular drop in dopamine for women with D-MER will cause the dysphoria and it usually lasts for 30-90seconds. Fascinating.
Another thing to note and what made me feel a bit better is that D-MER is physiological and not psychological. So, in essence, I’m not losing my mind, like I thought I was.
Can it be cured? I don’t know. The website said depending on the severity that you can take medication. But I don’t think a lot of doctors or lactation consultants know about it from what I can tell on the FB group. Also just eating healthy and staying hydrated can help. And awareness actually helped me a lot. Once I figured out what it was, it stopped being terrifying and awful. I could breathe through it and knowing it would pass in a few seconds helped as well.
What I didn’t and what I still don’t like is when it happens sporadically throughout the day for no reason what-so-ever. But for the most part it’s become something I can live with and can generally stave off if I drink my body weight in water. Recently, it happened while I was watching N take Lucky for his very first swim. It was horrible having an attack right while I was having the best experience.
But this discovery was huge for me and it made my breastfeeding journey okay again. I wasn’t experiencing the internal battle of quitting and being a terrible mother vs pushing through and hating every second of it.
And here we are, almost 7 months in and it’s… okay.
There’s a breastfeeding scene in a recent episode of the Handmaid’s Tale **possible spoiler** and boy was it made to feel like breastfeeding was the most glorious feeling and experience between mother and child. The over-the-top music and the lighting. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Granted the situation in the show was extreme. The show in its entirety is extreme, of course, but that’s for another blog post.
I’m also suffering from a bit of breastfeeding aversion which is new. He’s started using me as a pacifier and I really hate it. The extra sucks irritate me and set my teeth on edge and if I pull him off he whines and if he’s asleep he’ll wake up and cry. I’ve tried quickly swapping a dummy for my nipple. It doesn’t always work. I’m still working on this. Lately I just clench my teeth until I can take him off successfully and either distract him or hug and shush him back to sleep. It’s not fun for either of us.
But anyway, as it stands now, physically, breastfeeding is very easy. My supply has dipped somewhat since I started work but I have a room in the nurse’s office (no lock but there’s a sign that says “do not enter”) and with new laws I can pump as often and as long as I’d like and I don’t have to explain anything to anyone. My child can switch between breast and bottle easily. He just loves breastfeeding and that makes me happy even though it’s not my most favourite thing to do. I’m happy that he’s happy. Everything else aside, it’s really being a blessing that it’s been so easy to just pop him on and everything is right in his world.
I feel bad that it’s come relatively easily to me knowing that some women struggle and wish they could. I struggle with the fact that I want to quit so badly sometimes after a bad D-MER attack or when the feeding aversion hits me, and there are women out there who dream to be in my shoes.
I often ask myself, what’s the end goal here? How long do you keep wanting to do this. And the simple answer is
Just one more day…