Okay, so this post is a little late for me, since I stopped breastfeeding my third, and last, baby over 6 months ago. But I’ve learned something new that I wish I had known then. And holy hell it is insane.
Breastfeeding can be the most wonderful, fulfilling act in motherhood. The bond with your baby, the way they look up at you with all the love in the world while they nurse. The way they squeeze your hand and smile with milk dripping down their chin. The way they decide then and there that they want to grow up to be acrobats in the circus and start practicing in your lap, still attached to your nipple. Wait… That last part isn’t wonderful or fulfilling.
There are some real downsides to breastfeeding. The judgements and scrutiny about every single decision, cover on or off, how long should you do it for. Everyone has their opinion and people love to make mothers feel like shit for not following what the masses feel is best. That’s only the beginning, and the type of thing we unfortunately see all the time. I found out first hand that it can get a lot harder than that.
Due to fear, I failed at breastfeeding my first. The doctor insisted that I NEEDED to supplement with formula and once I did, my baby was no longer interested in nursing. But with my second, I had done my research. I ignored my pediatricians formula pushing and went for it on my own, and I ended up nursing my baby girl until she self weaned at 16 months. And I loved it. Obviously there were baby acrobatics and the judgements for going past a year and all that garbage, but I was happy and proud. So once I had my third baby, I was sure it would go well. Why wouldn’t it? I’m no rookie mom anymore! I know what I’m doing and this is going to go great.
I started my breastfeeding journey again, and this time, life was determined to knock me down a notch and show me how hard things can really be. Things seemed fine at first. Baby latched on right away and seemed happy. But before we even left the hospital, I was already starting to worry about his feeding schedule. He seemed to try so hard that he would fall asleep. Then wake up a bit later, nurse himself to sleep, and on and on and on and nothing ever seemed to be enough. He had lost weight after birth, like babies always do, but he was taking way too long to gain it back. I supplemented with a bit of formula to make sure he would get enough to grow, and I figured that once he got a bit bigger, he would get better with nursing.
That wasn’t happening. Finally, the pediatrician took a closer look and noticed that he had a tongue tie. It wasn’t severe, but it was enough to make nursing difficult. They recommended I get it snipped. I was so hesitant because it seemed so scary and honestly formula isn’t a bad alternative anyway, but this was my last baby. I wanted that bonding, and I was determined to make it work. So we went and got his tongue tie snipped. It was so fast and he cried for maybe 2 minutes before nursing again and it was such a relief.
So at about a month old, he was finally nursing long enough and strong enough to get as much as he needed, and I slowly weaned off the formula. I baked lactation cookies and drank beer and tons of water and got my supply up and I was so proud. Again, I got a big head and figured we’d be fine now. I’d nurse until he was a year and a half! Maybe even longer, who knows! And things went really well for a while. They really did.
Until he got his first tooth. I don’t know if it was just teething, or if maybe my supply dropped and he was frustrated, but the booger started biting me. He was only 4 months old, and I just couldn’t give up so soon, so I tried to hang in there. But he got another tooth and the biting got worse. I pride myself in having a high tolerance for pain. After all, I birthed all three of my children naturally, without any drugs or help at all. I figured I could handle some biting.
But I couldn’t. My body started reacting in ways I couldn’t control and it was overwhelming and scary. Every time I needed to nurse, I would feel like I was punched in the gut. My stomach would drop and my heart would speed up and no matter what I tried to do to calm down, it just got worse. I would latch him on, cringing the whole time, and then yank my breast out of his mouth if I thought he might bite or if he was almost done. This continued for over a week, and my reactions got worse. I became nauseous, and I was basically having a panic attack every time he nursed. Sobbing and everything. I just got these intense waves of fear and depression and it scared the hell out of me.
I felt like I was going crazy.
After a very emotional outburst, my husband convinced me that it needed to stop. I was a wreck and only getting worse, and with my mental health, we need to avoid as much bad as we possibly can. So I made the decision to pump instead. I did that for as long as I could, supplementing formula when I couldn’t pump enough. And for a few months, I made it work. Every week I was getting less and less from pumping and I was supplementing more and more formula, until I decided it was time to put the pump away forever. And honestly, I felt so free.
What really got me, was that about a year later, I learned about something that sounded very similar to what happened to me. It’s called D-MER, or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. It seems to be tied to the sudden decrease of dopamine in the brain during letdown. Most commonly used words to describe it are: anxiety, sadness, dread, angst, irritability, etc, etc, just a wave of all negative emotions. Although anyone experiencing it would experience it a bit differently, it’s the same underneath. And it is devastating. I think my anxiety disorder made it a lot worse and made me fear the crushing wave that I knew was coming. At the time, I thought I was just majorly overreacting to being bitten, which is bad enough to experience! But I felt so weak and couldn’t understand how a little pain could make me feel so low.
The worst part of all this is how alone I felt. I had never heard of anything like this before. I even read a bunch of pregnancy and baby books cover to cover(years ago) and I do not remember ever hearing about this. And it kills me to imagine other women going through it, thinking they are going crazy, or thinking they are failing their baby, that they’re a bad mom, and none of it is true!
I hope my story can reach at least one person who needs to hear it. Because I wish someone had told me.