I don’t often speak about it, but I really struggled with breastfeeding due to D-MER. Don’t know what D-MER is? Don’t worry, very few people do…
In short, breastfeeding made me want to curl up and die. Not because it was painful (although the first few weeks of engorged, hot boobs and cracked nipples were hell!) but because I suffered with D-MER. D-MER stands for dysphoric milk ejection reflex. It means that my hormones had gone haywire, and the hormone dopamine dropped way too low when I “let down” (when my milk started to come out). Instead of feeling all of those beautiful, loving and bonding emotions, I instantly felt like I had been hit by a truckload of depression. I don’t know why it happened to me, but I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager, so I assume my dopamine levels are already pretty low. This isn’t the usual anxiety that I’ve experienced before though, this was a whole other ball game.
(Charlie on the left, Cooper on the right)
When Charlie was born, it took me a few months of suffering in silence before I figured out what was going on. I hated every single feed, and I couldn’t figure out why. Chuck had a mild tongue tie, and I had flat nipples. So the start of our breastfeeding journey was VERY painful. It literally felt like there were razor blades in her mouth ripping my nipples to shreds. In hospital my room was constantly filled with visitors and I was nervous to feed around them, so I was actually leaving Charlie in the room while I would go out to pump, and then coming back and feeding her the colostrum from a syringe. The times I did attach her to the breast, I would bawl my eyes out and clutch Nick’s hand as hard as I could to try and get me through the feed. The day we got home from hospital it was so bad that Nick physically pulled her away from my breast because he couldn’t bare to watch me in so much pain. We booked in with a lactation consultant, and she gasped when I pulled down my bra and she saw the state of my scabbed and weeping nipples. She suggested nipple shields, and after a few days the pain went away.
But my issues with breastfeeding did not…
I noticed it most when I was up in the middle of the night feeding Charlie. In the dark with Nick asleep next to me, I felt so alone. I would hear Charlie start to wake, and I would begin to panic. I’d try to settle her for as long as I could, but eventually she would be crying out in hunger. By this point I would already be shaking with anxiety. My heart would be racing and my head would be all over the place. Charlie would latch, and after a few sucks my milk would let down. And then it would hit. It would hit me like a tonne of bricks. All I would feel was doom. Like the most grief I’ve ever felt in my life, but grief for what – I don’t know? I would rush the feed, and not long after Charlie finished and settled I would be feeling okay again. Until the thoughts of guilt would creep in and keep me up at night. I had no idea that breastfeeding would be like that, and I wondered what was wrong with me!
Eventually I reached out to my step-mother and asked whether she had experience the same feelings about breastfeeding. After some Googling, she came to me with the answer: D-MER. I read websites (www.d-mer.org) and blogs all describing how I was feeling, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was somewhat comforting knowing that I wasn’t going mental, but horrible realising that it’s so rare that no one really knows much about the topic. And there’s no cure other than to stop breastfeeding. I breastfed Charlie for a few more months, but eventually the anxiety got to me so badly that my milk dried up. I had read that it’s sometimes easier with the second baby, but unfortunately with Coops I lucked out. If anything, it was worse.
An example of how it all works is when I got my eyebrows tattooed. This was something I’d been speaking with my brow tech and Nick about for AGES! Nick said I could have it as my “push present”. My appointment was actually mentioned during labour to help get me through the pain, that’s how much I was looking forward to it! I’d gotten to my appointment and I was so happy and excited. Alix and I went through my consult and I could barely contain myself. But all of a sudden Cooper needed to feed, and as soon as the milk started flowing my head was filled with “What the fuck are you doing?” “What if they look shit?” “This is the worst idea you idiot”. I felt sick, saliva built up in my mouth and it became hard to swallow. I started sweating and shaking. I felt like getting the kids and running out. But then, I stopped feeding. And all was good again. It was like nothing had happened at all. I was excited, jumped up on the bed and got ma brows did! That’s how quickly the emotions can come on and off.
D-MER hit me at different levels. When I’m was tired, anxious, out in public or by myself at home it hit me hard. I would use my phone to distract myself, but sometimes I just sat there and cried. When I knew it was time for a feed, I would start to procrastinate. I’d pop the dummy in a few more times than necessary. Anything to avoid what I knew was inevitably going to come.
The anxiety and depression that came with D-MER effected every single aspect of my life. I got nervous leading up to a feed, and felt exhausted and irritated afterwards. I was snappy. I didn’t like to be touched. I was nauseous and struggled to eat. My patience with Charlie and Nick was worn thin. And I was constantly pretending like I was okay, when I wasn’t.
I didn’t breastfeed Cooper for as long as I did with Charlie, and I feel terribly guilty about it. But at the same time my D-MER was not only affecting Nick and I the second time, but it was affecting Charlie too – and that’s just not fair. I’m proud of my breastfeeding journey and how hard I worked to try and build that bond with my babies and give them the best start to life that I could. I can’t help but wish my body worked differently though, and wonder what it would have been like to find breastfeeding easy, or even just struggle with “normal” breastfeeding issues.
Like I said before, D-MER is very rare. Not many people, even doctors, know what I’m talking about when I mention it. The Mum’s at play group can’t relate. I get a lot of blank stares or “oh that sucks” in reply. I feel very alone. This is why I want to talk about it as much as I can, with as many people I can. I can’t even imagine the number of women who suffer alone and never get an answer. I have a feeling that D-MER isn’t as uncommon as we think.
(Charlie and Cooper, both happily bottle fed)
One thing is for sure – with or without D-MER, breastfeeding is fucking hard work. Actually, being a Mum in general is really tough. So if you’re having a rough day, month or even year, please know that you’re not the only one and there are people willing to listen. We all have our own struggles to deal with, and we’re all riding the highs and the lows.
I would be interested to know if you’ve heard of D-MER before! Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time x