Leave it to me to find the most obscure and bizarre post partum affliction available. I hadn’t a clue that D-MER was even a thing until it happened to me. Oh what’s that you say… you’ve never heard of it? You’re in good company because basically 99% of the population hasn’t either. Who has ever heard of depression when breastfeeding?! Well now I have, so today let’s chat about D-MER, or Dysphoric Milk Ejection reflex, what it is, my experience with it, and what can be done about it.
I am not one of those mommies who loves breastfeeding. This time around it isn’t even CLOSE to as painful as it was when my oldest was born, and I still don’t love it. I was fully prepared to go straight to formula when my second daughter was born, which of course basically guaranteed that all she wants to do is breastfeed. The child literally gagged and puked the first time we put a bottle in her mouth. SO, back to the boob we went.
My daughter was about a week old when I noticed myself dreading feeding her for reasons other than just the basic human reflex of not wanting to put your nipple in a vice grip. When I thought about the “why” of dreading it, I realized that within the first minute or so of her latching, I felt terrible. Not physically, mentally. I felt nearly instant feelings of depression and despair. What tha???
For a few days I thought it was a coincidence. Surely the two were not related? I was terrified that I was starting down the terrible road of post partum depression again. But alas, within a few minutes of feeding her, I felt completely fine. Even more WHAT THA??
Finally accepting that this was no coincidence, I referenced the almighty Google and got my answer. I was not crazy. Well, yes, but not for thinking that breastfeeding and instant feelings of hopelessness were related. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
Dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D–MER) is an anomaly of the milk release mechanism in lactating women. A lactating woman who has D–MER experiences a brief dysphoria just prior to the milk ejection reflex.
You can read all of the scientific goobeldy stuff about D-MER here, but the long and short is that in order for milk to let down, oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine levels in your brain move all around. Dopamine prohibits prolactin (which releases the milk), so when your milk lets down, dopamine drops. In women with D-MER the dopamine level drops too far, causing emotions including despondency, anxiety and aggression.
In my case, I felt really sad, hopeless, and depressed. And restless. There were times when I literally had an overwhelming urge to set the baby down and run outside. Then in five minutes it was over and I felt 100% normal. CRA. ZY.
In reading more about it though, there are woman who have literal panic attacks when their milk lets down. Some even feel extreme aggression toward their baby. Y’all that’s intense. One of the things that was so upsetting to me about this crazy condition is that most women who have it, have never heard of it and don’t connect the dots of breastfeeding and those feelings. They just spend months and months thinking they’re going nuts. That’s no way to live, especially when you’re caring for a newborn.
So what can be done about D-MER?
Ummm, basically nothing. There is no medication – at least not one that would be safe to take while breastfeeding, (insert ridiculous level of irony here) – that works for D-MER. The first documented reference to a hormonally based negative emotional reaction while breastfeeding was found online in a forum in June 2004. The phrase Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex was coined only a mere ten years ago. Because it affects such a small percentage of lactating women, there is not a huge awareness of it, which is unfortunate since awareness, education, and understanding are basically the only “treatments” for this condition.
What am I doing about D-MER?
Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my boobie-loving daughter), my milk production is basically nonexistent anyway, so it doesn’t make sense for me to keep forcing the breastfeeding. We are in the process of weaning, and I do not feel nearly as bad when she nurses now.
For mamas that have a good supply and strong desire to continue breastfeeding though, D-MER is devastating. Imagine wanting so badly to bond with and feed your sweet baby one second, and then wanting to throw her across the room the next. Not ideal. *To clarify, I never felt anger toward Lennox, just sadness. But apparently anger is a common feeling with D-MER.
For me, with a six week old, having a moment to turn on the computer to write a blog post is basically a Christmas miracle, but I just had to get this out there in hopes that it will be shared. (I’m lookin’ at you precious reader!) I’d love for other mommas suffering from this bizarre-o post partum condition to know, first of all, what the hell is happening to them, and secondly, that they’re not alone.
Did any of you out there in blogland know about this condition? Have any of you suffered from it? If so I would love to hear your experience and how you managed. Spread the word and help a milkin’ Momma out!
Love and nipple shields,
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