It was a feeling that came out of nowhere. Here I was, a Mommy of 3, four months into my third breastfeeding journey with my youngest, committed and determined to nurse him at least a year, when suddenly, I could not stand the thought of nursing him one more time.
My son was a champion nurser from the get-go; his first latch was perfection, our debut nursing session lasting almost 45 minutes, an anomaly that most of the nurses in the hospital had never witnessed. We came home from the hospital and he continued to be an eager and willing breastfeeding baby, happy and content to hang out on my chest the majority of his first few months of life.
Just as we began to settle into our new normal as a family of five, my feelings towards breastfeeding began to shift. He was, after all, my third baby and I went into our nursing journey with the idea that we would continue as long as it was working for all of us. If we reached a point where I couldn’t do it any longer, for whatever reason, we would stop and switch to formula, no questions about it. Despite introducing the bottle to him early, around 4 months old, he suddenly wanted nothing to do with anything that wasn’t me. At first I brushed it off; both of his big sisters had preferred nursing over a bottle but would eventually give in, so I wasn’t overly concerned. It wasn’t until I left one afternoon to go run some errands and came home to a hysterical baby and a distraught husband who had tried desperately to get him to take a bottle of pumped milk to no avail, that I realized I was no longer making the decisions regarding our nursing relationship; our little guy wanted his Mommy and that was that.
The wave of negative feelings while breastfeeding
Perhaps it was the loss of control or perhaps it was the constant, erratic, unpredictable shift in hormones that all nursing and postpartum Moms experience, but from that moment on, every time I sat down to nurse my hungry little guy, I was hit with a wave of unrelenting negativity. As soon as he would latch, my entire body would get flushed, my heart rate would increase, my mind would flood with everything from irritability (Seriously? You just freaking ate) to sadness (Am I ever going to have my body back?) to down right anger (Get off me, get off me right now!), and I had to fight the urge to break his latch, lay him down, and walk away from him. After a minute or two, lots of deep breaths, and forcing myself to focus on something, anything, besides nursing, the negative feelings would subside and I was left questioning my sanity and wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
I didn’t tell anyone about the negative feelings I was having towards nursing, fearful that if I said the words aloud I would be admitting defeat and living up to my fears of being a horrible mother.
Eventually though, after a particularly long and challenging day being a Mom to two big girls and a 7-month-old baby going through our hardest growth spurt to date, I broke down in tears to my husband as my screaming baby latched on and I was once again flooded with negativity. ‘I just need him to get off of me!’ I yelled. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I give up. I’m being suffocated…I just need some space!’ I sobbed. My husband swiftly and calmly scooped up the baby and took him upstairs and rocked him as I sat on the couch, utterly disgusted with myself and my overreaction.
After a few minutes sitting in our quiet, dimly light living room, I felt my sanity return and a sudden need to understand what was happening to me and why I was feeling what I was feeling. I typed the words ‘irritability while breastfeeding’ into Google and was overwhelmed with information detailing exactly what I was experiencing and the scientific, hormonal reasoning behind it. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflux, or D-MER, is defined as ‘a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.’ [source: d-mer.org]
Armed with this new found knowledge, I suddenly felt more in control and empowered knowing that I was not alone in these feelings and that there were simple, counteractive measures I could take to overcome, or at least manage, my D-MER. Deep breathing through the negative feelings, focusing on and talking to my older kids, finding an interesting article to read before I sat down to nurse, and singing softly to my sweet little baby all helped me ignore the brief and overwhelming drop in dopamine that, for whatever reason, was affectingly me so strongly this time around.
I’m proud to say I was able to nurse my son until after we celebrated his first birthday when we were mutually ready to end our journey together. Becoming a Mom is a beautiful, amazing experience whether it’s your first time or your tenth, but hormonally our bodies are on a roller coaster of highs and lows; don’t be afraid to speak up, ask for help, cry, go for a run, binge watch a show, do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. After all we’ve put our bodies through, we’ve earned it.