BREASTFEEDING BLUES // are you experiencing D-MER?

breastfeeding

I breastfed both my girls without too much difficulty – so much so, I then had trouble convincing Lil Sis to stop breastfeeding and graduate to the bottle. 

Due to the great latching-on advice I received before I left hospital, I never had to deal with mastitis or bleeding nipples, or any of those other horrendous breastfeeding side effects many Mums have to endure.

But I did experience something else – something I’d never heard other Mums talk about. I never said anything about it because I didn’t really know how to describe what I was feeling; I thought people might just think I was a bit strange if I tried.

As soon as the baby latched on this awful feeling of dread and foreboding would flood through me. My stomach would drop, my heart would pound, and I’d feel completely and utterly desolate. To use a bit of Harry Potter terminology, it was like the Dementors were nearby, and were sucking all the light and joy out of the room.

Then, 20 seconds later, that horrible would disappear.

When the same thing happened again after Lil Sis was born, I decided to try and work out what it was. I typed in: ‘Anxious while breastfeeding’. I had to weed through dozens of sites, but eventually, I found something…

It was a post where a blogger named Kim was talking about feeling nauseous, guilty, sad, and generally yucky for the first minute or so of breastfeeding. Then the feelings would just disappear as quickly as they arrived.

She linked back to another site, which talked about a condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex – or D-MER.

Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria. Instead of feeling happy, elated and excited, you feel anxious, depressed, restless, and even disgusted.

As I read down the page, I knew this was exactly what I had been experiencing.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on this condition, or how it affects other people, all I can tell you is how it made me feel. For those few moments, I would feel utterly hopeless – like I had absolutely nothing in life to look forward to anymore. Which wasn’t at all true, as I was totally enamoured with my new baby.

Over the next few weeks, the feelings pretty much disappeared and I forgot all about them – until Lil Sis arrived and they all came flooding back again.

Just like with Big Sis, they gradually lessened over the next eight weeks or so. Bubs is seven months old now so it’s not really a problem anymore, although I still occasionally feel – for lack of a better word – icky for the first few moments of a feed.

Docs still don’t know all the facts about D-MER, since it’s a newly recognised condition and occurs quite rarely, but here’s what I found out about the condition from the support website.

D-MER is a sudden flood of negative feelings at the time of milk release and lasts just a few minutes. It’s physiological condition, but it has nothing to do with the baby blues or post-natal depression.

Symptoms can range from mild anxiety to overwhelmingly sadness; at its most extreme some women even experience suicidal thoughts.

Apparently, it’s to do with the surge of the hormone prolactin required to make your milk flow. Simultaneously your levels of dopamine (known to lift your mood) plummet momentarily, leaving you feeling depressed and despondent until they level out again. This shuffle of hormones happens to all breastfeeding mums, but with D-MER mums the dopamine drop is much more dramatic. 

It makes perfect sense you think about all the changes and hormone surges your poor body has to endure after childbirth. It’s reassuring to know there’s a real reason for these strange feelings, and I’m not just going mad!

Well, not from this anyway…

I’d be interested to know if anyone else felt anxious during breastfeeding?

For more information about Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, visit: www.d-mer.org

• I’ve also talked about D-MER in ‘My Breastfeeding Story‘; you might also be interested in reading my opinion piece on ‘Sexism, Stereotypes and Sabotage – why are we our own worst enemies?’.

• photo ‘Mother Holds Feet of Baby‘ courtesy of Shutterstock

25 Comments

  1. I didn’t have this but what I did find was that every question I had about my baby and our experience did not appear among the FAQs in all the baby books. Obvioulsy I didn’t need the books for commonly known dilemmas but this is all they gave. It is so important for women to share all these unusual events so that others can get the support they need and not feel so isolated or freaky. Thank you for this.

  2. Midlife Single Mum: Thanks for your comment. Someone should put out a book – ‘The Stuff They Don’t Tell You About Motherhood!’ It would be a massive help when all those bizarre things happened, wouldn’t it??? Hmmmm, I can feel another post coming on… 😉

  3. I’m so glad that my post helped you! For me it really made a big positive difference just to understand what was going on; to have a name for it. I’m working on an article about D-MER right now and hopefully will be able to get it published soon…I think there’s a lot of women out there that would benefit from knowing about D-MER.

    I love your blog, you are so talented. Keep blogging!

  4. I didn’t have that, but I did find it really interesting reading. Never heard of it before.
    Thanks for sharing that x

  5. Kim: I know just what you mean – it doesn’t take away the ‘icky’ feeling, but it helps to know it’s normal and that there’s a valid reason for it happening.

    Please keep in touch – I’d love to read your article when it’s published. Am thinking of approaching some of my magazine clients over here with a similar story idea! x

  6. Over The Hill Mum: I’m glad you found it of interest – even if you didn’t experience it yourself at least you can now pass on the info if you ever hear other people referring to it! x

  7. I didn’t breastfeed my boys so I won’t be able to add anything but I just wanted to say that I find it fascinating, I didnt know at all this could happen just through milk release. The body is an amazing machine.

  8. I had real trouble breastfeeding both my sons so when my first daughter came along and she took to it straight away I was really pleased. I don’t think I experienced the anxious feeling to quite the same degree as you did but I did always feel a wave of what I can only describe as like home sickness followed by thirst which lasted for a few minutes. I only had this for a few weeks but experienced the same when I had my second daughter for her first few weeks too. She’s 9 months now and I’m still feeding her myself but I don’t get it any more, it never really occurred to me that anyone else would have anything like it!

  9. Perfectly Happy Mum: It’s quite bizarre how the body works, isn’t it??? x

  10. Fiona Flaherty: Homesickness is actually a good way of putting it! It’s such a funny mix of emotions – that’s why it’s so hard to really describe it to anyone else. x

  11. This is SUCH an interesting article. I had this too, but put it down to being a part of PND and having a painful let-down reflex – I thought the panic feelings were because I was worried about the pain, but the feelings remained long after the pain had stopped. It’s good that more information is coming to light, and well done for doing some research! Now, on with that book you mentioned…x

  12. Yes I had this, I just put it down to the raging hormones after each child! Really interesting, and reassuring, that other mums get it too and that it has an actual (difficult to pronounce) name. I remember it was worse during the night feeds when I also used to get feelings of real anxiety. Horrible when I look back. The fact I was exhausted didn’t help!

  13. Anna: Isn’t it reassuring to find out there’s an actual reason behind those strange feelings? I just wish I’d be warned about this before Big Sis was born! x

  14. Emily O: I’m quite shocked at how many women are telling me it happened to them too. I guess we all just put it down to the intense physical demands of post-pregnancy, and don’t think to question further. x

  15. I had postpartum depression with my first child (who was breastfed) and not with my second child (bottlefed). I always thought breastfeeding had something to do with it. Feeding the baby is usually what was jump-start the whole “downward spiral” each day. This makes me feel a lot better about it all.

  16. I had this with Little Bean but not with Beanie Boy (so perhaps its a ‘girl’ thing?). I would cry because I felt so emotional when I began feeding her but like you say, just like that, it would disappear again and I’d be telling myself – sort yourself out woman. I just put it down to hormones especially when it disappeared around 7-8 weeks. Great blog post Jax, nice to have an answer xx

  17. Kimmy: I can totally see how that would contribute – the negative feelings really are quite overwhelming. I’m really glad it’s helped you to see it’s not ‘you’ it’s those pesky hormones!!! x

  18. Mummy Matters: I think that’s what makes D-MER so hard to ‘diagnose’ because the feelings disappear completely, and leave you wondering if they were really there at all, or if you were just being a big hormonal hot mess!!!! x

  19. Wow. That’s REALLY interesting. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to try read up more about it 🙂

  20. Gosh, I love the clunky names they come up with to describe conditions that it’s turning out are far more common than most of us realise.

    i didn’t know about this and I’m glad you wrote about it, just goes to show how frankly amazing mums are, what we persevere through in the name of loving and raising our little ones.

    Great description with the Dementors – but scary!

    BTW, did you spot that I tagged you for Mrs Lister’s Q&A Meme? Come check it out!

  21. So glad I found you. Looking forward to all the mommy advice. I’m a new follower from the Monday Mingle. Such a cute site! Would love a follow back!

    http://willandmaryfrances.blogspot.com

  22. You have a great blog! I am visiting from the blog hop! I am your newest follower and would love it if you would follow me back too! Thanks so much!
    -Nikki
    http://chef-n-training.blogspot.com/

  23. This is really interesting, I did feel like this just on the odd feed every now and again, that kind of feeding aversion but it wasn’t every feed and it wasn’t until my daughter was about a year. It luckily wasn’t very many feeds before it stopped all together for us and I don’t get it at all now at 26 months.

  24. I have D-MER and it really helps to know that you aren’t the only one dealing with this. This is something that new moms should know about yet no one talks about.

    • Totally agree Nijah! Isn’t it strange how no one really mentions it? I bet if it was spoken about more openly the medical profession would find it’s a much more common occurrence than they realised. x

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