When Piglet was a month or so old, I began to notice something peculiar. We’d be having a quiet moment snuggled down in front of the T.V. I’d be watching some of the pop-culture drivel that makes me so happy, she’d be smiling and cooing. Then I would start to breastfeed and–OOF!–it would hit me. A heavy dusk settled in my mind and a wave of misery washed over me. Anxiety rang in my bones. I was utterly hopeless… Then, just as mysteriously, after few minutes, it was gone and I felt normal again.
This wasn’t the long slosh through the swamp of post-partum depression, but something fast and sharp–an action potential of misery. It didn’t even last for a fraction of the feeding. Strangely, I had not experienced this in breastfeeding my first child, and her (colicky) babyhood had been considerably more fraught emotionally for me. This was self-limiting and predictable, so much so that I would try to steel myself to it–to try to work myself into happiness before breastfeeding. But it was to little avail. The misery wave would wash over me… and, mercifully, pull back again. The feeling was so precise and easy to name that I typed it into Google:
Breastfeeding and Dread
…And so I found that my curious sensation had been given a name: D-MER, or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. A lactation consultant, Alia Macrina Heise, coined the term and started a website. The thinking seems to be that the interplay between dopamine and prolactin levels during breast milk letdown can cause sudden mood changes in some women.
I know, I know, some of you might think that this is just more evidence of the excessive pathologizing of ordinary problems and experiences, but I found the website helpful. Just identifying the shared experience rallied me. And D-MER was aggravating but not incapacitating to me–I imagine there are mothers out there who find it enough of a problem that it interferes with breastfeeding or causes them to wean. Generating awareness and treating these mothers may allow them to breastfeed as long as they want to. And that’s a great thing.
Luckily, my D-MER disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived, maybe two months later. Piglet and I are breastfeeding happily again, as much as she wants (ALL THE TIME).