A drop in the ‘feel-good’ hormone dopamine while breastfeeding can lead to some mums suffering extreme feelings of despair and in many cases a diagnosis of post-natal depression. But could D-MER, a recently-discovered syndrome be the more likely cause?
Every time blogger Teagan Gambin-Johnson breastfed her newborn baby she found herself overcome with feelings of anxiety and grief.
“My heart would be racing and my head would be all over the place,” she wrote in a blog post called ‘breastfeeding made me hate myself’. “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? I would rush the feed, and not long after Charlie finished and settled I would be feeling okay again.”
Many might assume that Teagan was experiencing symptoms of post-natal depression but in fact the mum-of-two was suffering from a little-known syndrome called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex or D-MER.
D-MER is believed to be caused by a sudden drop in the ‘feel-good’ hormone dopamine, which pre-empts the release of breast milk. Rather than the loving or bonding feelings many mums experience while breastfeeding, mums suffering from D-MER often experience strong negative emotions which can last for as long as milk let-down continues – usually between 30 to 90 seconds.
“In short, breastfeeding made me want to curl up and die,” she wrote. “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.”
“D-MER stands for dysphoric milk ejection reflex,” she explains. “It means that 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.”
Though Teagan now knows what was causing those feelings, it took her months of suffering in silence before she figured out what was going on.
“The anxiety and depression that came with D-MER affected every single aspect of my life,” Teagan explains. “I got nervous leading up to a feed, and felt exhausted and irritated afterwards. I was snappy. I didn’t like to be touched. I was nauseous and struggled to eat. My patience with Charlie and Nick was worn thin. And I was constantly pretending like I was okay, when I wasn’t.”
It was opening up to her step-mother that finally helped Teagan figure out what was going on.
“Eventually I reached out to my step-mother and asked whether she had experience the same feelings about breastfeeding,” she continues.
“After some Googling, she came to me with the answer: D-MER. I read websites (www.d-mer.org) and blogs all describing how I was feeling, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Teagan hopes that by sharing her experiences she will help other mums realise they’re not alone, and her post encouraged other mums to share their own experiences of the condition in the comments section.
“I have this, and it took me a couple months before I realised what was going on,” one mum wrote. “It is literally the worst. I almost heard voices in my head every time I let down, that’s how bad it got. And no one understood… Literally, no one. My girl is 6 months now, and I’m finally okay with formula feeding her. The guilt trips I put myself through are bad enough, much less #breastisbest. I say #fedisbest, #healthyisbest, and mama’s mental health is very underestimated in the health of our littlies.”
Although there are no official figures about the number of women suffering from D-MER experts believe the condition could be more common than previously thought because as so little is known about it, it can often be misdiagnosed as post-natal depression.
Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser with the Royal College of Midwives told Telegraph that she suspects some women are also choosing to keep quiet about their feelings. “There needs to be more awareness that D-MER exists,” she says. “Some women may not admit to these feelings as they don’t want to be perceived as bad mothers for complaining.”
Teagan has chosen to share her experiences in the hope that it might help raise awareness about the condition and encourage other mums to speak out about how they are feeling so they can seek the help they need.
“I can’t even imagine the number of women who suffer alone and never get an answer,” she says. “I have a feeling that D-MER isn’t as uncommon as we think.”
For more information on D-MER visit www.d-mer.org If you think you might be suffering from D-MER visit your GP or health visitor.
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