baby feeding from breast

What Breastfeeding Mothers Should Know About Depression and Anxiety

Have you or someone you’ve known felt a sense of doom, anxiety or depression before your milk lets down? This could be related to dysphoric milk ejection reflex, which roughly 9% of breastfeeding parents experience. I have been one of them, and I did not realize this was a condition. I blamed myself for feeling anxious when the letdown would happen, and I would have a panic attack while feeding my kids.

Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, what is it?

A wave of negative feelings during nursing, known as the dysphoric milk ejection reflex, corresponds directly to milk letdown (milk ejection). These emotions start just before the milk lets down and last a little while.

D-MER is believed to be a physiological response rather than a psychological response. It is not “all in your head” if you experience dysphoric milk ejection. Nursing parents who experience it don’t bear any responsibility for its occurrence as it is a true medical condition.

The signs of Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex

D-MER frequently contains depressive, irate, and anxious sensations. Though everyone has a unique experience, its basic attributes are unfavorable sentiments.

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Photo by Sofia Alejandra on

Additional emotions mentioned by nursing parents include:

  • hopelessness
  • feeling homesick or wistful
  • feeling panic or paranoia
  • self-loathing
  • feelings of dread or a sense of impending doom
  • anger or irritability
  • thoughts of suicide

Mild to severe signs of dysphoric milk ejection reflex may be present. They typically start shortly after nursing and can last up to 10 minutes.
Some breastfeeding parents can control their emotions, especially after they realize the situation. However, for other parents, the emotions are so strong and difficult to control that they feel forced to wean their children.

Many of the symptoms of D-MER are similar to those of postpartum anxiety and depression. However, nursing is the only activity that causes D-MER symptoms. Symptoms typically go away once the milk stops coming in and breastfeeding has been going on for a few minutes.

On the other hand, parents who suffer from a postpartum mood disorder frequently experience these emotions and discover that their emotional state impairs their ability to go about their daily lives or give their children the care they need.
Although D-MER might be extremely powerful, these emotions pass after feeding.

Unfortunately, it is possible to simultaneously have both a postpartum mood illness and a dysphoric milk ejection reflex.
Parents who experience both may struggle to comprehend what is happening and may struggle to identify the specific signs of dysphoric milk ejection reflex.

Don’t be afraid to contact your doctor or midwife if you experience the signs of a postpartum mood disorder, defined by two or more weeks of intense mood swings, an inability to focus or finish daily tasks, and feelings of shame and helplessness.

I will also mention that if you experience one or more of these symptoms, it could be caused by something else. I have ADHD, and the focus or finishing tasks are hard for me, even without having a baby! This is the reason you should talk to a healthcare provider for help.

Why is it that breastfeeding makes me depressed? 

Dysphoric milk ejection, as its name suggests, is recognized as a “reflex” – a physiological and hormonal response to breastfeeding.
Although the exact origin is unknown, the most widely accepted explanation holds that D-MER results from a decline in dopamine during the letdown.

Others hypothesize that the oxytocin released during the letdown causes an excessive “fight or flight” reaction. Stress and trauma that the breastfeeding parent is going through could make this reaction worse.

How Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is detected

Dysphoric milk ejection reflex is not a recognized diagnosis, and postpartum mental disorders do not include it.
No diagnostic procedures can reveal if you have it. Usually, your symptoms and the frequency with which they occur can let you know if you have dysphoric milk ejection reflex.
Speak with your doctor or midwife if you suspect D-MER. A lactation consultant can also be consulted; she or he may be more knowledgeable about treating the syndrome.

D-MER treatment options

There are certain coping mechanisms that many parents find helpful even though there are no licensed drugs to treat dysphoric milk ejection reflex.
It’s often clearer to keep what’s happening in perspective and deal with the experience just by recognizing that you’re experiencing D-MER.

Clinicians suggest that de-stressing approaches may help to control the syndrome because they think stress and trauma enhance dysphoric milk ejection reflex. These activities typically take place as you feed your infant.

Techniques consist of:

  • skin-to-skin contact with your baby
  • being massaged
  • playing soothing music
  • hot pack application to the shoulders
  • Put your feet in warm water to relax.
  • using meditation and mindfulness approaches to reduce negative thoughts
  • breathing exercises to unwind the body and psyche
  • surrounding oneself with considerate, helpful people
  • having all of your breastfeeding supplies

While using Wellbutrin (bupropion), some parents have noticed improvements. However, treating D-MER is not approved for use. If you are considering this treatment, speak with your doctor.

D-MER lasts for how long?

The dysphoric milk ejection response is typically the most prominent during the first few weeks of nursing.
Many parents observe that as their child gets older, the frequency of it decreases. Some people experience a decline after three months. Others only find comfort once their infant reaches an older age and their milk production starts to decline.
However, some parents claim that weaning is the only thing that makes their symptoms disappear.

Where to get help

When dealing with D-MER, support is crucial, and some studies think that receiving the right assistance can lessen the severity of the symptoms.
You can better control symptoms if you understand what’s going on and that others are experiencing similar things.
A smart first step is to get in touch with a lactation consultant or nursing counselor.

What to remember

You are not alone if you experience melancholy, depression, anxiety, or anger when breast- or chest-feeding. And you did nothing wrong at all.
There is nothing wrong with your body, whatever you’re consuming, or poor parenting that would lead to a dysphoric milk ejection reflex.

D-MER is merely a physiological reaction that some nursing parents encounter. As babies get older, most parents experience some relief. There are methods you might employ in the interim to lessen the intensity of the experience.

Reach your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant for support if you need assistance understanding or managing your symptoms, particularly if they are severe or causing you to feel out of control.

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