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Breastfeeding Blues

May 23, 2011
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When I first started breastfeeding I was so anxious and stressed that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that we would have latch issues, that she wouldn’t gain enough weight – the normal things a new mama worries about. So the first week or so, I attributed the dreadful, anxious butterfly feeling in the pit of my stomach  with a  normal response to being new to nursing. Plus, I was so sore I would brace myself for her initial latch – holding my breath and curling my toes. I thought the pain might  have something to do with the fact that I felt so awful right before my milk let down and as she started to nurse. But as weeks went by and we adjusted to life nursing, and nursing was no longer physically painful I still felt the pit of my stomach stressed feeling you get when you realize you’ve just written the bitchiest email about your boss and how stupid they are and then sent it to the entire company (your boss included). Yea that kind of awful feeling. Or when you’re so worried about an exam you can’t sleep.  I would also feel irritable – angry almost. And I felt like maybe I hated breastfeeding. Because I definitely hated that first few minutes. I was worried that something was wrong, I shouldn’t feel this way when I was so lovingly caring for, feeding and bonding with my baby. I knew it wasn’t PPD because I felt fine  at all other times.

This feelingI’ve only just now come to realize is a very  normal response to milk let down: D-MER or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, which is ” characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.” (D-MER.org) This is caused by a drop in dopamine that occurs due to the rise in prolactin/oxytocin that is needed for let down and milk production. Once the milk is made, the dopamine levels rise again,  the hormones rebalance and the feeling goes away.

I assume (b/c I was never actually diagnosed) that I had a very mild form of it. I could assure myself that the feeling wasn’t due to anything I really truly thought about breastfeeding or my baby and I would just breathe through it. I talked with other mothers and my midwife and found that the feeling of nervousness was a common occurrence for some breastfeeding moms. Once I knew that it wasn’t so abnormal I felt much better able to deal with it. To be able to name it made it a much easier thing to handle and talk about.

Its something that doesn’t often come up in pregnancy books and if it is mentioned only in terms like, ” You may experience a feeling of anxiousness or sadness upon initial let down.” But it was never defined or elaborated on. Now it is coming out – Babble posted a great article about it last month (read it here) and why it hasn’t become a facet of breastfeeding education – yet.

As bad as it felt, I knew that nursing was so important to myself and my baby that I didn’t let it stop me. And I think that if more women knew that it was a normal physiological and not psychological reaction, they may not use it as an excuse or reason to wean early. It did get better.

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