Before we even conceived our baby I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would exclusively breastfeed. I had done all kinds of research in the months leading up to getting pregnant that convinced me that breastmilk was not only best for my baby, but necessary for optimal health. So when we finally conceived my daughter, I did as much research as I could to make sure we got breastfeeding right. As her due date neared, I was confident that we would have no issues.
I had a very long and difficult labor. Despite my intentions to have an unmedicated birth at a birth center, after 40 hours of labor I had to be transported to the hospital to get an epidural so I could rest. Being in the hospital was not what I had envisioned for myself. I was afraid of all the interventions they would try to push on me and my baby. I was especially afraid that they would interfere with my desire to breastfeed my baby as soon after birth as possible. I knew what a critical time that would be for she and I to establish a good latch and feeding relationship.
Thankfully, the nurses and doctor at the hospital were very open to my “crunchy” birth plan and breastfeeding goals. Once I finally got my epidural and rested for a few hours, a nurse woke me and told me it was time to push. I pushed for nearly three hours. Finally, finally, my daughter Aislin was born.
Because I was borderline gestational diabetic during my pregnancy, my daughter’s blood sugar test upon birth was very slightly under what the nurses wanted it to be. They told me that they would need to give her formula to get her sugars stable and I adamantly refused. I begged them to give me an hour to nurse her and then re-check the levels. They agreed and so began our breastfeeding journey. My midwife was right by my side, helping me and Aislin figure out how to latch. It was difficult but we got her to nurse for several minutes off and on during that hour. The nurses re-checked her blood sugar and she passed the test! I was so proud!
But our difficulties didn’t end there. During our brief stay in the hospital Aislin had trouble latching and I could tell that my nipples were already taking a beating. I talked to the hospital lactation consultant but there was not much improvement after her visit. I hoped that perhaps it would just take a few days of practicing for Aislin to get the hang of it.
After we arrived home, though, things just seemed to get worse. My nipples began to crack and bleed and every time Aislin latched on I suffered excruciating pain. Aislin began refusing to nurse on my right side so I became painfully engorged. Then the screaming started. Every time we would try to nurse, Aislin would suckle happily for a minute or two and then jerk off my breast and start screaming inconsolably. Breastfeeding was quickly becoming a nightmare.
That’s also about the time I got hit with bad postpartum depression. I first began to notice that my “baby blues” were something far more serious when I couldn’t go a couple of hours without sobbing. I also found myself fantasizing about taking my baby back to the hospital and leaving her there or leaving her with my husband and disappearing. My husband and I knew I needed help after he found me sobbing hysterically while rocking our new baby. He had heard me crying from across the house. Something had to change, we knew, or I was going to lose my mind.
First, we visited my general doctor to get me on a low dose of antidepressants. We knew it was most critical for me to get my emotions under control. Then we called a wonderful lactation consultant who was able to come to my home and within 5 minutes she helped me and Aislin fix our latching issues. She also identified that some of the behaviors Aislin was exhibiting indicated that I had a forceful letdown and oversupply, both of which was resulting in Aislin’s screaming fits during nursing. Finally, she told us that our baby girl was likely suffering from reflux based on the way she was acting after nursing (she would arch her back and scream like she was in pain). Based on her observations we took Aislin to the chiropractor to try to treat her reflux. It helped, but eventually we had to put her on medication and it was like we had a whole new baby! In the meantime, I worked on my oversupply and forceful letdown issues by pumping and allowing my milk to spray into a burp cloth before Aislin latched on. All of this helped tremendously and Aislin and I were able to get into a more pleasant nursing routine.
Over the next five months nursing became easier and more pleasant for us. I began to look forward to feeding my baby girl and I could tell she was having a much easier time controlling the flow of milk on her own. But then at around the 8 month mark I started to have strange symptoms during nursing. As soon as Aislin would latch on and for about 30 seconds into our nursing session I would have intense depressive episodes. At first I thought it was my PPD intensifying, but I was still on medication so that seemed unlikely. And the episodes only happened during breastfeeding. I thought maybe it was all in my head.
After experiencing these symptoms for a couple of weeks, I finally talked to my midwife who surprised me by telling me that I had a rare condition called D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex). Essentially, D-MER is a newly recognized condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by abrupt negative emotions that occur just before letdown and can last for a few minutes afterward. D-MER is a physiological reaction caused as a result of inappropriate dopamine activity when the milk ejection reflex is activated. While I was relieved to know what was happening to me, I was disheartened that I had yet another obstacle to overcome to continue breastfeeding my child. However, I have found that if I am dehydrated, the D-MER is much worse, so I try to stay well hydrated and just push through the sad feelings when they occur. It’s really all I can do.
On the day after Thanksgiving this year, my daughter will be one year old and we will have met my nursing goal of a full year! I can’t believe how far we have come and how much we have had to go through to get here. But every battle has been worth it to know that I have been able to nourish my baby in the best way possible and for a great deal longer than a lot of mom’s are able. I will continue to nurse my girl for as long as she wants…unless she continues to bite me like she has been lately! Nah, I’ll just chalk the biting up to pushing through another obstacle. Because we’ve already come this far. And because my baby girl is worth it.