For Some Breastfeeding Mothers, D-MER Is A Shame-Inducing Condition Too Taboo To Talk About
Most moms know the difficulty and stress of breastfeeding well. From sore nipples and breast engorgement to leaks and bra stains, breastfeeding can be an isolating experience for women, particularly those who only hear the positives about breastfeeding. This is particularly true for women who experience Postpartum depression (PPD), a mood disorder that occurs at the onset of childbirth. While PPD has, in recent years, has become more talked about and destigmatized, the condition known as D-Mer is only recently beginning to receive attention.
D-MER (Dysphoric milk ejection reflex) is a condition that causes people who breastfeed to develop anxiety, depression, and negative thoughts at the onset of milk ejection. The symptoms are often so quick to occur and leave (can last up to just a few minutes) that the first publication of studies on the condition happened for the first time in 2011.
Fortunately, women on Reddit are speaking up and sharing their experiences with the condition.
Check out some of the stories and experiences below.
“I was never officially diagnosed with it, but myself and the postpartum/nursery nurses think I experienced it with my second. I just had him in September, and the first letdown I immediately felt intense anxiety, anger, and resentment. I wanted him off me, when moments prior I had felt amazing with him. I immediately asked for formula and decided not to breastfeed. I have a history of depression, and active generalized anxiety disorder, and I just can’t risk my mental health. I didn’t experience this with my first. Breastfeeding was hard and miserable with my first, but I never had a reaction like that. My husband and I agree that not breastfeeding was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family.”- batpig1990
“Yep. It made me nearly dread feeding my daughter but I just… powered through. It felt really lonely until I learned it was actually a thing and other women went through it. I’d previously breastfed my sons and never experienced this so having it hit on baby #3 was weird and disconcerting.”- fsr87
“I experienced D-MER. It felt like such a deep feeling of sadness and dread to me and it would always start right at letdown. Even though it was very short lived, the feelings were so intense. It would last a minute or two then fade. Thankfully I looked it up pretty early on, so I understood exactly what it was which I feel made it easier for me to deal with. It was most intense right after my milk came in and gradually lessened with time. It was gone by the time my son was about 2 months old. I’m still nursing my 2.5 year old and I’m currently pregnant with my second child, who I also plan to nurse.”- MrsPecan
“I’m so glad you reached out. I felt so alone through my breast feeding experience. I literally would get exhausted, and my brain would keep telling me “I want to kill myself” every time I had a let down. It took me about 10-20 minutes to recover emotionally after feeding, but the whole process was absolutely exhausting. I stopped breastfeeding at 9 months because it was so bad. I’m hoping with my next we don’t have the same issue.”- deactivate_your_mind
“This is very much how I felt.
I breastfed for 7 months, under general societal pressure to do so as long as possible, and I really regret it. My son was a really big eater and preferred to have many small meals throughout the day (sometimes nursing 15-20 times a day) and it destroyed me. This experience was influential in my decision to not have another child. If I ever change my mind and have another, I will not breastfeed.”- pegonreddit
“Yes, I went through a spell of this around the time that my period came back. Thankfully, it seems to have been concentrated only during that hormonal shift.
I felt physically ill, like my stomach would turn and my skin would crawl, and I felt like screaming my head off. I was having a pretty difficult time with life circumstances then, plus I do have a long history of depression, so that I think there may have been a depression and anxiety worsening, but it’s really hard to say.”- resplenduit
“This has been my experience, too—I’m still breastfeeding my 8 month old, and it’s not every time I feed her (thank goodness), but every once in a while I feel physically ill and my impulse is to want to stop nursing her immediately. So far I haven’t, and it only lasts a couple of minutes so I get through it pretty quickly. I also have a history of anxiety and depression. It doesn’t feel like anxiety or depression, but I wonder if there’s a correlation there.”- bluev0lta
“Does it include other negative emotions like rage? I’ve often experienced rage and frustration associated with my letdown, most commonly when pumping rather than directly BFing (but sometimes with that too).”- ape-ocalypse
“My cousin had D-Mer and she experienced rage. She mentioned that during let down she felt like she “wanted to murder something”, not her baby, not her husband, not any self harm, just an overwhelming urge to kill. As someone who didn’t experience this, it was wild to hear coming from my very sweet cousin. Hormones are nuts sometimes.”-justaregularthief
“I experienced this, and to a certain extent still do, although it was much more intense in the early days. Let down causes a strong overwhelming feeling of guilt and a pit in my stomach, milk nausea. It goes away within a minute or two, but that minute or two is very hard. I actually thought maybe it was just my body having a haywire response to oxytocin because I experienced the same feelings during labor, and occasionally after orgasm. Before baby I had consulted several therapists to try to understand why I feel it after intimacy and all had advice and suggestions but none have been able to help. Just being open with my partner about what was going on and talking myself through it is what I’ve done to cope. And when I felt the same feelings during labor and again during nursing I was less alarmed since I’ve been dealing with it already. I believe for me it’s a response to oxytocin but I’ve never been able to figure out why.”- Melissaru
“This is interesting and really helpful to hear (I’m not the OP)—I also sometimes have this happen after sex/orgasm (nausea and sadness). The potential connection to oxytocin is intriguing. I’ve never considered that before. I’ve always just though I’m weird; it’s reassuring to hear it’s not just me! There are at least two of us.”- bluev0lta
“I came to read the comments because I feel this after orgasm too! For me, it feels kind of like thirst – physically and emotionally, like I wanted to drink a lot of milk, kind of, but more like I really needed something but could never tell what it was, if that makes any sense. I have as long as I can remember and I wondered the same thing about Oxytocin.
As far as it relates to BF, I just pumped for 3 months but I had horrible horrible PPD/PPA so aside from the “thirsty/sad” feeling I couldn’t say what else accompanied it.
Edit because holy fucking shit, I guess it’s not that weird that other humans would feel that way too but it’s kind of awesome to find out I’m not alone or insane!”- clara535
“Oh wow, I had no idea that was an actual condition, I thought I was just weird and broken for hating nursing so much. I experienced it with all three of my kids but breastfed for 12, 9, and 15 months respectively. Knowing now that this is a thing, I wonder if it had anything to do with my PPD and guilt over disliking breastfeeding.”- miserylovescomputers
“I believe I experienced this throughout breastfeeding, though I didn’t isolate the feeling at first. (My mental health was not in great shape when I had an infant; I never sought a diagnosis or treatment because if I took that hour to sleep I would be fine.) I noticed it for sure when I went back to work and started pumping. I would get a brief, unpleasant feeling of anxiety before letdown started. I’d read about D-MER before giving birth (I think through a Reddit link) and hadn’t thought I had it at first, but after a couple of months of pumping I read it again and decided that was what was going on. As I continued pumping, I would actually find the feeling reassuring because it meant letdown was coming! It took longer and longer to get a letdown from pumping as the months went on, and the anxious feeling also lasted longer. I didn’t get it as frequently when nursing directly, letdown didn’t take as long, and it wasn’t as bad. We did eventually end up switching to formula as I wasn’t pumping enough milk, and as I dropped pumping my supply dropped overall.
I’m glad someone is studying this. I hope your thesis goes well.”- Clare-Dragonfly
“Yes, with both of my babies.
I want to know how you felt – Intense feeling of dread, followed by significant nausea, and vomiting. I was told the physical symptoms were quite rare. I lost a significant amount of weight with my first, very quickly before we knew what was happening.
how you coped with the feelings – I tried to ignore the dread, I felt it was due to me knowing I was going to get sick.
what you may have thought you experienced before you understood the condition – After that I was always drinking an Ensure thinking the nausea was relating to an empty stomach. Finally, I had to get on Zofran. Symptoms eased up around 3 months. My midwives originally thought I was having some sort of GI issue unrelated to pregnancy/BF. I kept on it until one of them knew what it was.
how you learned about the condition – my midwife referenced an obscure article, and finally put me on Zofran. My second child, my IBCLC told me all about D-MER, and my midwives put me on Zofran pre-emptively.
If you continued breastfeeding – made it to 12 months with my first and 9 with my second.
if it occurred with more than one child – had it with both
was Reddit helpful to you for understanding of the condition and/or support… I looked up ‘nausea with letdown and I think I even posted about it in Breastfeeding but did not get much response/support.
Anything you wish to share, including information other than the prompts above, would be greatly appreciated – These were relatively recent experiences, babies in March 2016 and September 2018.
Good luck on your thesis!”- Boop_she_boop
“I DMed you but felt I should post publicly for others to see.
I am a mother to two children. I am 30 years old and married. My oldest is 3 years old and youngest is 15 months. I experience D-MER, I am sure of it. With my first child I had experienced postpartum depression and was also diagnosed with OCD. I tried breastfeeding my daughter for two weeks but she wouldn’t latch. I gave up because I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to pump. I pumped 3-4 times a day. EVERY TIME I pumped, a wave of intense sadness took over me. I remember thinking this is probably what being near Dementors from Harry Potter feels like. It really felt like I would never feel happiness again. All joy was taken away and complete dread overtook me. I felt disgusted with my body. I felt repulsed by my breasts and my body (because of the weight gain). I would pump during my lunch break and eat while I pumped. Sometimes I would feel so disgusted with myself that I would throw out my food and stop eating. It would begin right when I would start pumping and last for a few minutes and then come back during the pumping session a few times. (The session would last about 30 minutes). I tried talking to my doctors about it but they kinda dismissed it. I pumped for 6 months and experienced it every time. I never felt letdown physically like some women feel. If letdown happened when I wasn’t pumping I wouldn’t know BUT I would be going about my day and out of nowhere BAM that dreadful feeling came back. It was hell. I finally stopped because I started bleeding during pumping.
When my second was born I didn’t experience PPD but I was taking medication for it. I was able to breastfeed him much easier than my first. I am still breastfeeding him now at 15 months. I still experience that dreadful feeling when I feed him but no where near as intense as before AND it doesn’t last as long. I still feel all those feelings as before but it doesn’t take over me.
I tried dealing with it on my own by reminding myself that it was temporary and will go away and try to focus on other things like what was on TV.”- PleaseSmile8D
“I think I have/had this although I never sought help for it. I read about D-MER while pregnant so I knew it was a thing before I gave birth. I also have a history of anxiety and was in counseling prior to my son’s birth as I was worried about PPA (which never manifested thank goodness). My son and I had latch problems the first week he was home so I definitely had strong anxious feelings due to that. Although we resolved our latch problem the first week it took until the 2nd month that I was truly comfortable nursing and I don’t recall feeling immediately anxious as soon as he latched/ I started a pumping session until he was 3 months and it lasted through his 4th month. It has mostly resolved itself now and I no longer experience it with each nursing/pumping session (although it does still occur somewhat frequently).
I would get an intense feeling of anxiety typically only at the beginning of nursing and also while pumping. I have never had a letdown sensation so I can’t say it was strictly tied to letdown but it would fade during each nursing/pumping session. But it was like I couldn’t breathe / beginning of a panic attack and also a strong desire to run away.
Since I knew of D-MER and have experience coping with my anxiety I treated this the same as I did when I would have spells of bad anxiety. Put emphasis on my mental and physical well being. Yoga/meditation and loads of water. No alcohol (I would have a glass of wine/beer with dinner) as that definitely can make my anxiety increase.
My son is 6 months old now and we are still breastfeeding exclusively.”- Lokalina
“From reading your comment, I think the same thing happens to me during shower time but I never connected it to my breasts. I have to pay attention now to see if that’s what it is. Thank you”- preppyghetto
“Wow I’d thought I had breastfeeding aversion, but reading the difference between them, I definitely had d-mer.
It happened gradually. At the end of my first child’s nursing experience, I had to almost shove him away during letdowns because my joints all felt almost.. itchy? Now I know that’s my body’s version of agitation. At the end of the pregnancy and during the start of breastfeeding I had restless legs. By the end, my feet, legs, arms and hands all felt irritated and I couldn’t stop clenching my hands into fists.
Now with my second baby I have had to distract myself with my phone or be utterly exhausted to not respond with some amount of physical agitation. Also this round there’s dread. Also food aversion. I didn’t have it that I noticed with my first, but with both I already had pretty extreme thirst so avoiding food while I’m constantly drinking is easy. With the second pregnancy during letdown food sounds, smells and looks disgusting.
Lastly, does anyone else feel/hear the letdown’s corresponding rise in either blood pressure or heart rate in their ears? I get eczema in my ear canals specifically during breastfeeding and during letdown I can feel the change in pressure and the eczema ITCHES.”- abigurl1
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