Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. It is a day to call attention to the mental health issues faced by women during pregnancy and in the 1st year following the birth of their babies.
If you missed my post on postpartum depression, please check it out here: https://chatwithdrketch.com/2017/04/07/world-health-day-2017-depression-lets-talk/
There is, however, another condition that affects breastfeeding mothers and has sometimes been mistaken for postpartum depression…but it is not. Everyone talks about how fleeting the pain of childbirth is once the bundle of joy is held in the arms of the mother. It then appears ‘somewhat’ unnatural when mothers experience sadness in taking care of the baby or as this mother says, sadness when breastfeeding. This was a previously unknown situation and mother who experienced this felt alienated from family, friends and even their medical personnel as nobody appeared to understand what they were going through. Was this postnatal depression? Was this a psychological problem? I daresay in our environment, people would have asked if the woman was demon-possessed ;D
Well, researches have shown that this situation is called D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex). The term dysphoric refers to dissatisfaction. Usually, when a baby latches on to the nipple of his mother for breast milk, the hormones, oxytocin and prolactin are released. Prolactin acts on the milk producing cells of the breast and the oxytocin acts to let the breast release the milk (let down reflex). At this same time, the level of dopamine decreases. In D-MER, the level of decrease in dopamine is extreme leading to sadness, feelings of negativity etc. This feeling is fleeting though, lasting seconds to few minutes as the level of dopamine normalizes. This feeling may also be precipitated at times when the milk ejection reflex is activated like when you think about feeding your baby or when he cries etc. Now it is important to note that while this does not happen to everyone, it is not a psychological problem, neither is it postnatal/postpartum depression.
So, what to do? Stopping breastfeeding may not be the answer, as you will be depriving your baby of all the vital nutrients he needs in his first few months of life. In some instances, just understanding what is going on is sufficient to help the mothers cope with the situation as they can identify when the symptoms start and stop.
In more extreme cases, there may be need to prescribe drugs which increase the level of dopamine in the body. Your doctor will determine what makes sense. Anti-depressants have not been found to be useful in this situation. I daresay more work will be done on this condition to better understand and provide relief for it shortly.
So, the message on this day is, show love to people dealing with maternal mental health issues like postpartum depression and don’t stigmatize them.
Good night, y’all 😀