Some moms give birth and have been looking forward to breastfeeding since they knew they were pregnant. They are super excited to breastfeed. Except, breastfeeding doesn’t turn out how they expect. It doesn’t make them feel all the glorious, warm-fuzzy feelings they read they would have breastfeeding.
While not everyone has a good breastfeeding experience, for some, it is due to the pain they experience while nursing. However, that is not what this post is about. This post is about the emotions that a mom experiences while she breastfeeds her little one. Because, really, breastfeeding should be a pleasurable experience which bonds a mom to her baby. But if it isn’t pleasurable, there may be much more to it than you realize.
Do you look forward to nursing your baby? Do you enjoy every minute, basking in her eyes and kissing those tiny little hands? If not, you may have Dysphoric-Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER).
Dysphoric-Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) is a rush of negative emotions (dysphoria) that occurs just before milk release and continues for a few minutes. Sometimes this continues throughout the feeding or for most of the feeding.
D-MER is characterized by anxiety, sadness, depressed mood, irritability, or feeling restless when the milk is released. Moms may find that they feel they “don’t like breastfeeding” but they don’t really know why. They may dread nursing or feel like they may have post-partum depression when in fact they are experiencing D-MER. It may even feel like the “baby blues”.
Our current understanding of D-MER is that it is caused by an inappropriate release of dopamine during the milk ejection reflex. This is 100% the hormones of mom and not mom’s fault. D-MER is not a psychological response to breastfeeding, it is a physiological (or her body’s) response to let down. Mom cannot control her feelings that she experiences as a result of D-MER.
What Can You Do?
So what can you do? First thing is that some moms find that once they know it is biological rather than emotional, some are able to push through. As it goes, sometimes “knowing is half the battle”.
Second, it often helps to track what may help and what aggravates symptoms. For example, increase in stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, increase in caffeine can have an exacerbating effect for some moms. Try relaxation or relaxing techniques, getting more exercise, increase hydration, catch more naps, reduce caffeine intake may reduce the anxiety and depression you feel nursing. Tracking your symptoms, and whether or not changes in these (or anything else you think is causing it) have an effect, can be helpful to identify triggers.
Third, if none of these work for you, prescription treatment may help. The connection between dopamine and D-MER has been said to be improved by medications which support dopamine. Talk to your doctor about possible medications to treat the symptoms while you are breastfeeding.
This post is dedicated to Emily, who breastfed her girls for 3 and 1 month with D-MER! It is because of Emily that we learned about D-MER.