When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong

I'm excited to be a participant in the October Carnival of Breastfeeding, where moms weigh in on their thoughts about - you guessed it - breastfeeding! So if that's how you found me (or, well, even if it's not), welcome to my blog. This month's topic is "If I'd Known Then ..." and boy, do I have a doozy. It's the reason I couldn't continue to nurse my second son more than a few days, and finding out about it is what allows me to keep on nursing my new baby - Coby. I wrote this post about a week ago, when some research led me to make a very surprising discovery. If it helps even one person, I'll be ecstatic.
At the bottom of this post, you'll find links to the other participants' posts about what they wish they had known about breastfeeding. There are some very interesting reads - so I hope you'll click on through!
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Here we are. And by "we" I mean me, my boobs, and the baby: still one relatively happy foursome (threesome if I wear a sports bra. You know, uni-boob). Coby is one month old, and - miracle of miracles - I'm still breastfeeding! I know it hasn't been long, but I'm congratulating myself on the small steps.

Not long ago, I learned something about breastfeeding that rocked my world, people. And I'm going to share that secret with you.

I nursed my oldest son, Colin, for about half of his first year, and had every intention of doing the same - plus more - with Cameron, my second son. I fell appallingly short of my goal, though, only sticking with breastfeeding for a couple of weeks (and that's a high estimation). But it wasn't a problematic latch or a case of thrush that derailed my efforts - it was something much harder to understand.
The reason I stopped nursing Cameron is something I couldn't share with anyone, because I thought I was some ... weirdo. Like there was something psychologically wrong with me. You see, every time I would start to nurse him, I would be instantly overcome with this overwhelming sense of anxiousness - a heavy feeling of dread. I hated it. I hadn't experienced it with Colin, so I wasn't sure what was going on. All I knew was that I felt horrible. It seemed that everything I read about breastfeeding said it was a loving, pleasurable experience ... a special bonding time ... yet here I was, feeling like I was watching the scariest horror movie ever each time I fed my baby. Sometimes it was so bad that I would tremble uncontrollably for a few seconds and my breath would catch in my throat.

(Photo from D-MER.org)

The worst part, though, was how I berated myself for feeling that way. My mind scolded me every time. What is wrong with you? How could you have such terrible feelings toward something that's supposed to be so natural and beautiful?

To add to the frustration, I couldn't find anything about it. When I researched it on the Internet, I saw a few random posts on message boards outlining something vaguely similar to what I was experiencing, but no one ever had any answers for those people either. I chalked it up to some weird and disturbing personal quirk, took it for a clear indication that I just wasn't meant to breastfeed, and threw in the towel.

I was relieved when I didn't feel the same thing with Coby. At least - not for a couple of weeks. But then about a week ago, I had just sat down to feed him when ... bam. It hit me. That all-too-familiar wave of anxiety, so great that my body shuddered and shook for a few seconds. And it happened again the next day ... and with more and more frequency after that.

Determined to find out what the hell was wrong with me - whether I was psychotic or what - I did some more research. And this time I found an answer: this is real! And I'm not crazy!

What I have is called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER. Its official definition is "a newly recognized condition causing a brief surge of dysphoria, or negative emotions, that peak before the milk ejection reflex, or letdown, in a lactating woman and then dissipates quickly after the milk release." And that's why I didn't find anything about it when it happened with Cameron - because its discovery is so new that there hadn't been any research on it at that point, not quite two years ago. It is a PHYSIOLOGICAL response - meaning hormonal - NOT psychological. (Whew!)

D-MER is rapidly gaining recognition and is much more common than anyone expected. If other mothers with D-MER are like me, they've been keeping this secret under wraps. It's a shameful feeling to admit that nursing your baby makes you feel terrible - especially when everyone else is gushing about how sweet it is. But now that I know that it's an actual disorder, a real problem, and that I'm not alone, I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. And now, though breastfeeding still isn't - and probably never will be for me - as "warm and fuzzy" as it is for most mothers, it's a whole hell of a lot more tolerable. And I can keep on doing it, knowing that it isn't some devastating problem.

If you're interested in learning more about D-MER, check out D-MER.org. If you've experienced this or know someone who has, get the word out: it's important that these mothers know what they're feeling is OKAY and LEGITIMATE. Feel free to tweet about it on Twitter, link back to this post in any way you'd like, etc. ... as long as you help me spread the news.

I love and encourage any and all comments, but I especially want to hear from you if you've been through this yourself. It's always nice to hear I'm not alone!

Now: run along and check out the other great posts from the Carnival of Breastfeeding ... and come back here any time!



Fancy Pancakes
The Milk Mama

Hobo Mama

My World Edenwild
Happy Bambino
Three Girl Pile-Up
Birth Activist
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!
Momma's Angel
The Starr Family Blog
Whozat
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives
Breastfeeding Mums
Cave Mother
Blacktating
Breastfeeding 1-2-3
Mum Unplugged


29 comments:

  1. This is very interesting! I think there are a lot more women out there with this condition then we think. I wasn't in love with breastfeeding, but that was because of different reasons.

    Good for you though on continuing. (Even though I feel that a bottle is good too!) :)

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  2. I experienced this, too. I still loved (and still do love) breastfeeding my daughter, but certainly felt that "dread" quite often.

    She's almost a year old, and I realized a while back that I rarely feel it anymore. It seems to have (mostly) disappeared sometime in the past few months.

    I blogged about it here, when she was about 7 months old:
    http://whozatshrike.blogspot.com/2009/05/dysphoric-milk-ejection-reflex-d-mer.html

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  3. nope, i never experienced this. (i only nursed for a week. i had to stop because i was beyond sore. i cried every time.)so glad you found your answer! hope you find some peeps that you can chat with to compare notes

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  4. I didn't have that when breastfeeding, but I had it immediately after giving birth. I didn't have the gush of emotion that I expected to have and heard other felt when seeing their baby for the first time. I felt completely terrible, but chalked it up to hormones as "post partum" if that's even possible that quickly after giving birth.

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  5. WoW! I'm so glad you posted this. I had trouble breastfeeding both my kids. Maybe two weeks with the first and then I ended up pumping for 3 months with the second. I noticed after a while when pumping that I got that overwhelming blah, yucky feeling whenever I started pumping. Now, there's a name for it and doesn't mean I'm a psycho! That's great to know in case baby #3 becomes a reality :)
    Congrats with the breastfeeding too! A month is a long time for those of us who aren't in love with it!

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  6. I breastfed for all of 10 days with Jakob and that was it. I hated every minute of it!

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  7. Lovely post mama! You summed it up really well! Hope you have a self correcting case, hang in there! (hugs)

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  8. Oh my God! I felt like this too with my oldest son. Breast feeding did not go well for us. I just felt like I couldn't do it. I pumped breast milk for him but fed him a bottle. I just couldn't put him to my breast. Thank you for sharing this.
    So is there a treatment? What is next for you? Does it go away with you keep up with it?

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  9. that is really interesting. I wonder if I experienced a bit of that myself, although I had such issues with supply that my breastfeeding days were numbered anyway. Congrats on finding out what it was. By the way, I picked you as one of my recipients for the Honest Scrap award. check out my blog for info.

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  10. That's very interesting. I'm not a mom so I have never experienced that before, but now I know if that does ever happen to me.

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  11. Wow...I never knew such a thing existed. I'm so sorry you've been having such a difficult time.
    CONGRATULATIONS on making it to a month! Coby is one lucky little baby!

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  12. Great, honest post. I breastfed for 8 weeks until I got mastitis..the lactation consultant told me I HAD TO continue breast feeding even with 104 fever and cement boobs. ummmmm....no.

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  13. Sorry, tried to comment yesterday but couldn't for some reason. Gosh what a revelation....never heard of that before. Although I have only recently stopped feeding number five I don't remember suffering from any of those feelings, just pain...a lot for up to the first three months. I hope it eases off for you. x

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  14. Amazing discovery! Who would have thought that even after my kids are grown I was still feeling guilty about not enjoying breastfeeding?! Now I won't be so hard on myself!

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  15. Anonymous16/10/09

    I had the same feelings, maybe even worse. I felt like my stomach was coiling up like a snake. I never got a warm and fuzzy feeling while bfeeding. It was not enjoyable to me, and I felt guilty that I didn't like it. like something was wrong with me. It was like that split second before the Dr. sticks the needle in your arm for a shot. Only longer and more disconcerting. no fun.

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  16. Anonymous18/10/09

    So that's what was happening to me 20 years ago! I breastfed my baby for 1 1/2 years. I do have fond memories of that, but I also have memories of just a few seconds of a heavy quilt feeling. Yes, let-down never failed to follow that. I just always figured it was hormones doing silly things. This is interesting!

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  17. This is so interesting. Glad you figured it out. Wow. Who knew?

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  18. Wow. I've never heard of this before but it sounds awful. You did so well to nurse at all with this to cope with as well.

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  19. This sounds close to along the same lines as Post-Partum Depression. I wonder how many moms are not being properly diagnosed?

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  20. I wonder how much of this has to do with our society's subtle (and not so subtle) messages about breastfeeding. I wonder if this is an issue for women in other countries. It's great that there is research being done on this and that you were brave enough to share!

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  21. Thanks for the informative post on an issue I don't think many moms know about. Is this covered in any of the breastfeeding books? I don't even know, never heard of it myself until quite recently.

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  22. i felt this for the first 2 months or so that i was nursing. i always assumed it was ppd (which i struggled with with my first 3 children). thank you for posting this. although i'm no longer experiencing this, it's nice to know for future reference!

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  23. Wow, it seems a lot of moms (in your comments, anyway) have experienced this. I was going to say that I think I've heard other women complain of this, or simply that they did not enjoy breastfeeding. Then my memory got jogged back to the early weeks with my son, and I remembered the overwhelming feeling of dread, depression and guilt I got every time I pumped (we had major breasfeeding issues). And then I remembered having this feeling a few times while nursing him, too, and I most definitely always felt extreme exhaustion upon let-down in those early days. I thought those bad feelings were because of our breastfeeding difficulties--you know, psychological.

    Happily, those bad feelings did go away. I don't know how long it took, maybe a few months? I was so excited whenever he latched and nursed properly that I probably ignored these feelings during nursing, but DEFINITELY felt them during pumping!! I'm happy to say that it got much better, I never feel that way now, and we are happily nursing at 16 months.

    By the way, you are an awesome mama to push through this!

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  24. Anonymous23/2/10

    I am going through something like that right now and I don't know what to do. My husband wants me to keep going, and I know it is the best choice for our daughter, but it just isn't enjoyable and I get so worked up as she starts to wake to nurse. She is only 10 days old and I love her to bits, but breast feeding puts a damper on things.

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  25. I'm a first time mom and I feel I'm not alone. Breastfeeding is very difficult. In this post full of emotions and opinions. I love breastfeeding my daughter and never think of anything that could give me stress towards breastfeeding.

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  26. I experienced this as well. I was so depressed during breastfeeding, but in between feedings I felt fine! I thought I was going crazy. I was so surprised I hated it so much. I had great support and was able to breastfeed for 7 months despite the overwhelming depression during feedings. Glad to know I'm not alone! Thanks for the post.

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  27. Anonymous13/7/11

    THANK YOU! I thought I was just a broken person. This answers so many questions and hopefully this will open the door to healing for me. I'm seriously on the verge of tears, I have such relief to know that it isn't just me. I have felt so alone for so long experiencing this.

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  28. I just stumbled upon this-- I am so glad to read about your experience. I had the same experience with my daughters for the first month or so of breastfeeding and was very confused by it. This has definitely brought me some clarity!

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  29. Anonymous26/2/13

    I breastfed my 1st son till he was 16 months even though I felt awful and anxious probably about 8/10 times. Just for the sheer fact he wouldnt take bottle and I felt I would be crazy to not while I produce so much milk. But besides the awful feelings I would be starving but if I ate anything the feelings would get worst. I haunt read anything about that aspect of this but of anyone else has felt this way it would be good to know I'm not alone, as I am currently nursing my second who is now 4 months and I still get the feelings.

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