Many women struggle with breastfeeding. Some more so, and some less so.
Every so often, I’ll see someone struggling with symptoms that seem to hit them whilst they’re breastfeeding. It can be confusing to be feeling fine with your baby one minute, and then the next, whilst you’re feeding them, you’re suddenly feeling awful. This can cause additional stress, like wondering what’s wrong with you as a mother, and how you’re supposed to bond with your baby- Isn’t breastfeeding meant to help bonding?
Some women can experience what’s known as ‘Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex’ during breastfeeding. This is when your let-down (‘milk ejection reflex’) triggers a negative experience (‘dysphoria’), like sadness, restlessness, irritation, frustration or anger, worry or dread, feeling upset, and more. Some women have described physical symptoms as well, and others have described that it’s like getting hit by a flood of negative thoughts. And then these thoughts and feelings just seem to recede after baby finishes feeding.
There are a range of things that can help if this is happening to you. But the first one is to understand what is happening! It’s also good to know that if you do want to persist with breastfeeding, these symptoms often ease with time.
If you experience negative thoughts, feelings, or sensations during breastfeeding, you can try the following:
- Competing sensations.
For example, if you feel restless or like your nerves are being grated during feeding, you can try tapping, rubbing, or massaging near these areas where you feel these sensations most strongly. This creates a competing sensation for your nervous system to process, as well as shifting your attention and focus from the source of irritation.
Take your mind off what is happening by watching or reading something, eating something, singing, or talking to someone else at the same time.
- Experiment and explore what makes breastfeeding more or less difficult for you.
Do you feel worse when you are hungry, tired, stressed, dehydrated, or even caffeinated?
Do you feel better during feeding if you eat regularly, exercise regularly, or take some time out of the day for you?
Are there any differences at all for you between expressing vs feeding?
Is it worse or better in different breastfeeding positions?
Do you feel better if you are feeding whilst walking around the house?
- Good self-care.
This can reduce your vulnerability to how intense these symptoms may be. Try to get enough rest (I know, I know- you have a baby!!), try to eat well, and get some down time in each day in between your many demands.
It’s always good to check in with your general practitioner, and potentially a therapist too.