Today’s post is totally serious and a little long so you’re welcome to come back tomorrow instead for something fun. Tomorrow’s post will be fun.
I often hear about women describe their breastfeeding experience as a fulfilling and enjoyable one. They talk about how much they love the bonding session and how warm and fuzzy it makes them feel.
I’ve never had that.
For me, breastfeeding feels like I’m sinking into a dark hole after getting punched in the gut.
Initially, I thought it was post natal depression but I started to realize that this terrible feeling of dread only came whenever I was breastfeeding. And after some research, I found out that it’s a condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER).
It’s basically a feeling of dysphoria caused by a drop in dopamine whenever milk is released. For most women, this dopamine drop is barely noticeable but in cases of D-MER, the sudden drop causes a negative emotional reaction that lasts until the dopamine levels re-stabilize. It’s a reflex (like a knee-jerk reaction), which consistently happens every time I experience milk letdown. And because it’s a physiological response instead of a psychological one, it’s not something I can rationalize away by using mind over matter techniques. It just happens.
The good news is that the feeling doesn’t last long. It hits me for about 30 seconds right before each round of Milk Ejection Reflex (MER) and goes away once the milk starts to flow. The not so good news is that I usually get 3-4 rounds of MER per breastfeeding session so that’s about 30 rounds of dysphoria a day.
For quite a while, I had no idea how to deal with this because it’s not a common condition and not many people talk about it. It was like I was the only one who felt inexplicably sad and down while breastfeeding. I thought I was sinking into depression and falling into a deep dark hole I could never get out of.
With Kirsten, I struggled with it a lot. It didn’t help that I was physically, emotionally and mentally stretched to the limit trying to handle a 13-month-old Truett and a newborn on my own.
This time with Finn, knowing exactly what it is helps me to deal. When I feel the familiar sense of dysphoria creeping up on me, I take a deep breath, brace myself and wait for it to be over. Latching on directly also helps because being able to hold baby Finn and run my fingers across his little cheeks somehow makes the depression a little less depressing. Other times, I try to distract myself by watching reruns of Whose Line Is It Anyway on Youtube, surfing the net or listening to happy music.
Occasionally, despite all the mental pep talk, I start breastfeeding and I feel like I’m slipping into the dark and twisty hole again.
On those days, I get help with Finn so I can sleep in for another 3 hours. Or just get out of the house for a cup of bubble tea and a cupcake. Or spend some time snuggling with the bigger kids, laughing and telling bedtime stories.
One way or another, I’m learning to cope.