Teagan Gambin-Johnson was thrilled when she became a mother, but soon afterwards she started filling with dread when she had to feed her baby.
The Australian mom wrote on her blog, Two Kids Raising Kids, that she would notice her feelings of anxiety when her baby Charlie would wake to feed:
I’d try to settle her for as long as I could, but eventually she would be crying out in hunger. By this point I would already be shaking with anxiety. My heart would be racing and my head would be all over the place. Charlie would latch, and after a few sucks my milk would let down. And then it would hit. It would hit me like a tonne of bricks. All I would feel was doom. Like the most grief I’ve ever felt in my life, but grief for what – I don’t know?
Teagan had a painful time when she first started breastfeeding, her nipples were shredded by her daughter’s tongue. With nipple patches, the physical pains healed. But her anxiety during breastfeeding never subsided.
Her mother-in-law helped her search for her symptoms online and they found a condition known as dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER).
According to Alia Macrina Heise, a lactation consultant, D-MER is a medical condition where lactating women experience brief “negative emotions” or dysphoria during feeding. Heise is a suffer of D-MER and identified the condition in 2007.
In a study published in International Breastfeeding Journal, Heise wrote that hundreds of women have since come forward expressing that they’ve experienced similar symptoms during breastfeeding.
It’s unknown how many women are suffering from D-MER, but Postpartum Women Virginia estimates that as many as one in five women experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD).
Adrienne Griffen, founder of Postpartum Support Virginia, previously told Dearly that many new moms experience overwhelming feelings of sadness and inadequacy, but there are places to find help:
“Many people go through the same thing. You can get better with help. We have a universal message that we all say at local organizations: You’re not alone. You’re not to blame. And with help you will be well.”
Teagan explained on her blog that she felt “let down” when she started releasing milk:
In short, breastfeeding made me want to curl up and die. Not because it was painful (although the first few weeks of engorged, hot boobs and cracked nipples were hell!) but because I suffered with D-MER. […] My hormones had gone haywire, and the hormone dopamine dropped way too low when I ‘let down’ (when my milk started to come out). Instead of feeling all of those beautiful, loving and bonding emotions, I instantly felt like I had been hit by a truckload of depression.
Even though she recognized her signs of D-MER, Teagan continued to breastfeed a for few months until she couldn’t handle the depression any longer. When she gave birth to her second child, she didn’t breastfeed as long as the first.
She wanted to share her experience as many parents hadn’t heard of D-MER:
Not many people, even doctors, know what I’m talking about when I mention it. The moms at play group can’t relate. I get a lot of blank stares or ‘oh that sucks’ in reply. I feel very alone. This is why I want to talk about it as much as I can, with as many people I can. I can’t even imagine the number of women who suffer alone and never get an answer. I have a feeling that D-MER isn’t as uncommon as we think.
If you suspect that you are are experiencing a PMAD, or if you have questions about postpartum depression, you can call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773.