After the work of getting things going, you may feel that breastfeeding should become easy and enjoyable. People talk about the amazing bond that comes with breastfeeding, or that wonderful oxytocin rush. There seems to be an increase in both classical art and stock photographs (no doubt very posed!) posted online showing glowing mothers nursing content babies.
So what if you simply don’t enjoy it? What if you have a distracted and fussy baby? What if you feel self-conscious breastfeeding in public? What if your darling baby insists on pinching and nipping at every feed? Or quite simply, what if it just feels like a chore?
Essentially, all of these feelings (and more) are very normal and it’s a rare mother who enjoys every single moment of her nursing journey, however long that may be. La Leche League is all about mothering through breastfeeding – not just the mechanics of getting a pain-free latch – and we are here to celebrate your successes and also support you when it’s a chore.
It’s important to remember that breastfeeding is two way – it’s a relationship between you and your child. If there’s a part of it that isn’t working, it’s fine to change it.
Society often isn’t overly understanding of breastfeeding, especially once a baby gets a little bit older. Getting support and realising your experiences are not unique is massively important. Many mothers have found that support via LLL – either face-to-face at meetings or via Facebook groups and forums. Realising you are not alone and that it will pass are invaluable.
As your baby heads towards toddlerhood, it’s absolutely fine to put limits on nursing and insist on ‘nursing manners’. Lots of mothers find ‘fiddle’ necklaces can help divert nipping fingers. Breastfeeding is about so much more than nutrition – it’s an emotional connection and a way of mothering. For a toddler who is mastering new skills and discovering the big wide world, this is invaluable. For the mother of an 18 month old with a child nursing more often than a newborn, it can be extremely trying. Setting limits, and self-care, as well as support and understanding from others, can help each mother find the balance that is right for them and ensure that nursing continues in a positive light for the dyad.
Many mothers find they experience nursing aversion due to hormonal changes. Some mothers find they struggle around ovulation or during their period. For other mothers, a nursing aversion may be the first sign of pregnancy. Many mothers find nursing through pregnancy tough, and even painful. Some practical suggestions that mums find useful include limiting the duration of feeds (counting up to or down from 10, singing a nursery rhyme etc.) and using distraction to limit the number of feeds. Keeping well hydrated and well rested can help too.
Some mums will find themselves feeding two children – a toddler (or older) and a newborn. Whilst there are many positives to tandem nursing, some mums will not want to feed both children at the same time, as they find this overwhelming. Again, this is perfectly fine – LLL is here to help you meet your own breastfeeding goals and find a balance that works for your family.
Depression or other negative emotions upon milk let-down (D-MER)
Whilst not enjoying breastfeeding all the time, or developing nursing aversion is very common, a small number of women experience far stronger negative emotions when breastfeeding.
This is called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER. According to D-MER.org, “Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is a condition affecting lactating women that is characterised by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.” This is a physiological response (not a psychological response) that appears to be tied to a sudden decrease in the brain chemical dopamine immediately before milk let-down, and mothers may experience feelings of depression, anxiety, homesickness, agitation or anger, immediately before they feel milk let-down.
This is rare, but extremely distressing for the mother. Please contact your local LLL Leader who can support you if you suspect this is something you are dealing with.
Following are some resources for more information:
D-MER.org is a website devoted to information about Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Heise AM, Wiessinger D. Dysphoric milk ejection reflex: A case report. Int Breastfeed J. 2011 Jun 6;6(1):6.
Cox S. A case of dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER). Breastfeed Rev. 2010 Mar;18(1):16-8.
Written by Rae Lowe for LLLGB, 2017