When my eldest was born I was determined to breastfeed. As a first time mum I found I was sold a very romantic story when it came to breastfeeding. That breast milk is magical, that it helps foster a bond with your baby, that you will be filled with the most amazing feelings of love and adoration while you do it. So you can imagine how horrified I was when I found myself feeling full of shame, disgust and immense anxiety when my milk let down.
To be truthful, I didn't breastfeed Charlotte very much. She was born full term but prem size, she was very lethargic. She didn't have the strength to latch for long so I was encouraged to pump my milk. That's when it began. The milk started flowing and my stomach started turning. I couldn't understand why I felt so awful. Tears and milk streamed.
A couple of weeks into non stop pumping and gut wrenching agony I finally reached out timidly online to other mums to say that I had these strange "sad" feelings when I breastfeed (I just couldn't bring myself to say that I felt like I wanted to die every time I did it). A friend randomly said that it sounded like I was experiencing D-MER. I looked it up, found a support group and was SO relieved! Even though there isn't really much to be done about the experience, I was just so grateful that there wasn't something horribly, horribly wrong with me as a human being.
What's interesting about D-MER is that although it's a recognised condition (only recently - since 2007), why it happens and how it happens is still speculative. The sensations of D-MER occur as your body does what it needs to do to release milk and can last for sometime after feeding has begun. What does the body do? It does a little dance with 3 hormones - Oxytocin, Prolactin and Dopamine. Prolactin has to rise steadily to stimulate milk production. Dopamine prohibits the release of Prolactin so its levels have to drop in order for the process to work. The theory is that for mothers experiencing D-MER, the Dopamine either drops too far or differently somehow and causes a negative psychological reaction. Let me clarify this because it's important; D-MER is a physical condition that causes a psychological reaction. It is not a psychological condition and cannot be addressed via psychological treatment.
What does it feel like? Each mother experiences it slightly differently. For me it felt like deep, deep shame. Like I was doing something so horribly wrong (see title of blog). D-MER is diagnosed in a spectrum ranging from mild to severe. Mothers who experience the phenomenon mildly experience a sort of 'sinking feeling' and 'sadness'. As you move along the spectrum the feelings worsen to 'self disgust' all the way to suicidal thoughts. I would class my experience as severe at first and it lessened over time. This was because, as I said, Charlotte couldn't feed and so I pumped exclusively and as my milk supply lessened, so did my D-MER.
In fact, I've learned since that many of the mothers who experience D-MER have found that it is worse when they pump versus breastfeed. Furthermore, many have said it was worse still if they pumped both breasts at the same time. That was me to a tee. I pumped exclusively and both breasts each time. No wonder it was so severe. Though for some mums, they experience severe D-MER no matter what they do. Pump or breastfeed, this breast or that breast, it didn't matter. I read with heartbreak one mum sharing that she wouldn't look at her baby while she breastfed because she didn't want her baby to see the pain and anguish in her eyes. All she wanted was to share this beautiful act of nourishment with her sweet baby and she was forced to look away. As if being a new mum wasn't hard enough.
My experience of D-MER wasn't as severe with Michaela I imagine because she was breastfed. I did feel some pangs, especially if I had to pump. Mostly I felt it was less prevelant because I knew what it was. Strange but true. It's noted on many D-MER sites that although there aren't many options in terms of treating the condition, many mums found the symptoms decreased dramatically once they understood what was causing them and once they found a support group.
And that's why I'm writing this. In the hopes that there might be a mum out there experiencing D-MER who stumbles across this blog and realises that she's not crazy, not a terrible person and is certainly not alone in her experience. Even if it doesn't reach that mum, maybe you, the person reading this will have a friend who will share with you that she feels sad when she breastfeeds and you'll remember that random blog you read about D-MER. And maybe the only reason you'll remember was because the crazy lady who wrote it compared breastfeeding to drowning kittens and it stayed with you ever since. Either way, do me a favour and share this blog? Just in case. You never know who needs to read this and what knowing about D-MER will do for her.
Bron (D-MER sufferer)
Learn more at http://www.d-mer.org/
D-MER Support Facebook Group
Join the Mothers United Movement private group to connect with other mums, hear from mentors and get details on events.