Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.
D-MER, or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, is a problem that is seldom discussed in breastfeeding literature. It’s a tricky condition to diagnose, because other things can make breastfeeding a negative experience – postpartum depression, psychological responses to physical pain or sensations, associations with past abuse, body image issues… D-MER, however, causes a “dysphoric” response (depression, anxiety, anger, negativity) with milk let-down, and it typically subsides as soon as that physiological process ends. In my opinion, this is a vastly under-diagnosed condition due to the perception that these feelings are shameful or “abnormal”, because we are told that breastfeeding should be a lovely, enjoyable bonding experience. Further, the vast majority of D-MER resources operate under the assumption that weaning is not an option, and that it can be resolved through medication. For those who want to continue breastfeeding, this is wonderful – but for those who do not feel comfortable taking certain medications while nursing, or at all, this advice may cause more frustration than comfort.
FFF Andrea’s story, which unfolds below, demonstrates the conflicted feelings of a woman who wants to breastfeed, but also wants the happy, emotionally-attuned family life she so deserves. I hope that her willingness to share her journey will encourage other women living with D-MER to come out of the closet regarding their true feelings and experiences. This is a real problem, affecting real women, and it’s time we had some real, honest discussions about it – because in many ways, it is the most literal “booby trap” of them all.
Happy Friday, fearless ones….
I formula fed my first and for the most part didn’t mind. I knew he was turning out healthy and he was advanced for his age too. I had no doubt that formula was a good alternative for those that didn’t want to or couldn’t breastfeed. However a part of me always sort of wished breastfeeding worked out for me. However I had depression only during breastfeeding and it just got worse as the days went on. After a bit of research sometime later I found out that it was D-MER and was a bit relieved that I wasn’t abnormal and others experienced it too.
Fast forward a couple years and we had our second on the way. I hoped that breastfeeding would work out and was determined off and on to exclusively breastfeed. I researched D-MER and found out that if you had it before you would likely get it again. That thought scared me quite a bit because I remembered how miserable I felt and the dread I felt before he latched on. I found out that Wellbutrin had some good results with D-MER though and started researching the use of Wellbutrin while breastfeeding. I took it for ADD already with great results, but had stopped before I got pregnant. However, I just couldn’t find enough research to make me feel comfortable with that. I knew only a little transferred through the milk, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much it affected a baby’s brain since they were so tiny and still developing quite a bit. My education background made me wary as well. To me, formula honestly seems to be a much safer alternative because it doesn’t have a drug in it that affects the dopamine levels in her brain.
Fast forward again and my daughter was born at a very healthy 7.11 pounds and 20.5 inches. She had (still does have) the cutest chubby cheeks! I decided to go ahead and let her latch on and she did, very fast and pretty good, too. I remember telling the doula that we would take it one day at a time and wistfully stating that I hoped it would work out. It was an experience I wanted to have. I knew I’d bond with her just as well with formula; in fact it would be better than breastfeeding if the depression came. We were in the hospital for 2 days and she breastfed really well; in fact I’d say she had a voracious appetite. She had a wonderful latch, but she went at each feed so thoroughly that I got peeling and cracked nipples. It only hurt when she latched on fortunately and sometimes that was because she’d just inhale the nipple. On the third day I was pretty much couch- bound with a baby that was feeding pretty often for short cluster feeds. If she wasn’t feeding she was using me as a paci or insisted on sleeping with her head right next to the nipple. I could get up to maybe use the bathroom, but that was it. My milk had started coming in and I began to feel those same depressing thoughts and I had some random bouts of anxiety as well. Faint as they were at that moment, it was still undesirable. I also found myself really hating the couch-bound aspect. I couldn’t find a position that didn’t hurt since I had a couple stitches. I also had a son that needed me. My husband was helping out a ton, but my son insisted on having me help him go to bed at night and to pat him back to sleep if he woke up. I wanted to be with him at bedtime and more as well, but with the way my daughter was feeding, it was very hard. So midway into the third day we switched to formula. Admittedly I felt relieved. I wasn’t tied to the couch and my mood started improving with the slowly diminishing letdowns. The more my milk dried up the better I felt.
A few days later though it was clear the formula wasn’t agreeing with her. She was comfort feeding so much that she would drink about 6 ounces over a couple hours between fussing. Then she’d cry and fuss herself to sleep. We tried paci’s and all, but she wouldn’t take them. I also noticed that she had silent reflux. I decided to try Similac Sensitive since that was what my son was on. I remembered that he didn’t do well on Enfamil Gentlease so maybe it would be the same with our daughter. It seemed like she improved briefly, but she actually got worse. So as a last option I bought a can of Alimentum and gave that a shot. She started doing so much better. It was an amazing improvement. I fell in love with the formula, she is such a happy and calm baby now. She does just as well on Nutramigen as well, which is a bit more affordable.
Part of me felt bad though. I occasionally wonder if she’d have had this problem if she were breastfed. I also wished a bit that breastfeeding had worked out. I wanted that experience and the convenience as well. I felt a bit guilty that I enjoyed holding my daughter more now that she wasn’t attached to me and voraciously feeding almost all the time as well. She had such a high demand and was always tugging and pulling at me as well as feeding quite hard at times.
I can’t help wonder if some of the guilt I feel is because all my friends breastfeed. The only person I could talk to about the whole breast or formula dilemma while pregnant was with my mom, who had done both with my brother and me. I tried talking to a friend, but she wasn’t very helpful. I got some clear anti formula comments from another friend as well. I laughed it off, but it did hurt a bit. I know part of me feels envious because I did hope it would have worked out. It’s just an experience I wanted to have that wasn’t tainted with depression or random bouts of abnormal anxiety. At this current moment I’m trying hard to not get down that it didn’t work out. It is so nice that my husband can help with feedings. It’s nice that I don’t have a baby attached to me almost all day as well. It’s especially nice that my mood isn’t going downhill and that I won’t wonder someday if the Wellbutrin changed her brain at all. I can help out more with our son too. I do enjoy feeding her much more now. It’s a wonderful bonding experience and as I say, since you need two hands for feeding with a bottle you can’t read a book or surf the web like you can while breastfeeding. Sure you can watch TV, but I rarely pay attention to that, I love watching her and it helps keep me aware of her cues on when she needs to burp or is done.
Overall, I know that this is better for me emotionally. While most don’t understand DMER or why I won’t breastfeed while taking Wellbutrin, I know the truth. If someone wants to judge me on my reason for not breastfeeding, that’s their choice. I hope that someday moms won’t feel this huge push for breastfeeding and have more support for formula feeding. We have enough to deal with as moms, how one chooses to feed their baby shouldn’t be one of those nerve-wracking issues that can be laced with guilt if the choice isn’t breastfeeding.
Share your own experience for an upcoming FFF Friday. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.