Breastfeeding 2.0

Breastfeeding the second time around has been such an eye-opener. It’s been humbling and surprising to be learning how to breastfeed from literally square 1 again. I had to take a bit of humble pie in a big way. I assumed as I had a long and successful breastfeeding journey with Henry that it would be a sinch, but it was really not.

Thankfully, I had none of the issues I faced when learning to breastfeed with Henry, with Thea. She came with a whole new set of hurdles which were much more emotional for me. Breastfeeding trials with Henry were largely physical: engorgement, mastitis (x3!), bleeding nipples and cluster feeding for hours on end. With Thea, I have faced none of these things. I think that is why I was very confidently breastfeeding her within the first few weeks of her being born. Breastfeeding felt easy. We were smashing it. It didn’t hurt, and her feeds were like a little German train schedule. No cluster feeding, just feeding every few hours consistently.

I first noticed the DMER after all those awesome post-birth hormones began to wear off. It was so strange and came out of the blue. I just remember sitting on the lounge, getting prepared to feed Thea, when I just felt this weird gush of homesickness. That homesickness where you don’t know if you just need a hug from your mum or if you are just a bit thirsty. It was heavy, and it felt like my life was just headed for Doomsville for some unknown reason. I then felt my letdown happen, and then the feeling went away. It was fleeting, all happening within two minutes max. I was surprised because I felt like I wasn’t struggling with depression or anxiety in major ways, and I felt like I was loving everything about my postpartum season this time around. I began questioning myself: am I okay? Am I happy? Do I find joy in things? Am I still laughing? To which I answered all these things a firm ‘yes’. I took to google and typed in the search bar, ‘bad thoughts during the letdown’ and I was faced with a plethora of hits for DMER.

DMER stands for Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. In order to produce and release breastmilk (triggering the letdown), your body’s hormonal system must perform a drop in dopamine (pleasure hormone). With women who suffer DMER, the drop in dopamine plummets far lower than normal, which brings on feelings of dissatisfaction, doom, sadness, or the icky feeling that something isn’t right. For me, once that letdown feeling passed, the feelings passed like it never happened. What helped me understand and make sense of DMER is knowing the fact that the condition is not psychological: it’s completely physiological. It’s completely different from PND or PNA as the negative feelings are only associated with the milk ejection reflex.

It was so random and at first, very scary. Once I knew it was happening though, I did a few things to help me ride the wave for the few minutes it occurred at each feed. I’d eat chocolate or a sugary snack during letdown, I’d engage in conversation, and sometimes Josh would sing to me to make me smile. I think understanding what it was and knowing that it was purely a hormonal response helped me not to get too bogged down in it. I also sometimes engaged in some mental self-talk. I’d say things in my mind like, ‘this is not real’, ‘this is not what you really feel like’, ‘this will be over in one or two minutes’. It helped, but it was still a hurdle and an extra inconvenience of breastfeeding this time around for me.

Thea is also a fussy and picky feeder. She has gone on a few ‘nipple strikes’ which knocked my confidence, big time. This has gotten more manageable over time yet is still a scary thing to deal with. I do feel like since she hit 3 months breastfeeding has gotten far easier, but she still usually has at least 1 bottle of formula a day. It works for her, and it works for us, and I am so glad she has taken to formula easily. I felt very trapped when Henry wouldn’t take a bottle because each and every feed was my responsibility which was tiring and overwhelming. Knowing I could leave Thea with Josh or a relative for a few hours if I wanted or needed to is freeing. It relieves pressure on me and helps me be less anxious. For some it’s not a big deal, but for me it has really helped my postpartum journey this time around.

I’m so glad we are still breastfeeding, and I think introducing the bottle little bit at a time has almost benefitted our breastfeeding journey. Mix feeding is very possible and very practical. I was so scared off it with Henry, as all my googling pointed towards that mixed feeding was just a fast pass to a dwindling breastfeeding journey. Sure, it may be the case for lots of babies, but it doesn’t have to be the hard and fast rule for all. It is really working for us, and it can for you too if you are wanting to explore it.

Breastfeeding is truly a magical experience if it works but it can be a severely damaging experience if a woman feels unwanted pressured to continue from herself or others. Breastfeeding is magical until your baby just will not latch on because they are too hungry. Breastfeeding is magical until mother is harrowed by awful thoughts as soon as she feels her letdown start. Breastfeeding is magical until your supply won’t replenish your baby fully. Breastfeeding is magical until you’ve been feeding every hour throughout the night and wake up to a cranky and tired baby. Breastfeeding is magical until your baby screams in pain after every feed. Breastfeeding is magical until someone mentions the phrase ‘baby must be hungry!’ to you after you have tried and tried to latch your baby on to no avail. Breastfeeding is magical until your body provides milk in oversupply, and your breasts become clogged and infected. Breastfeeding is magical until your nipples bleed for days or weeks on end. Breastfeeding is magical until it’s not.

Bottle feeding is magical as it can give a mum the confidence that her baby is being nourished enough. Bottle feeding is magical as it can calm a crying baby who’s finally reached, ‘full’. Bottle feeding is magical as it can give mother a break for a little while. Bottle feeding is magical as it can involve a partner. Bottle feeding is magical as it can help a mother to stop overthinking, second guessing, and feeling as if she is failing her baby.

Breastfeeding can be magical for so many mothers and babies, but so can bottle feeding. Two different sorts of magic, two different ways to nurture a baby. Two different miracles, two different journeys which can promote closeness and bonding. My advice to mothers this time around is two-fold: don’t be scared to introduce a bottle, and don’t be scared to experiment. You will not ruin your baby or put your baby behind the pack by bottle feeding. If breastfeeding is something you’d like to persevere with, go for it. Seek help, talk to other mothers and don’t isolate yourself. I think I have just learnt this time around that an open mind is a healthy and wise thing for myself and my baby girl.