D-MER Almost Ruined My Breastfeeding Relationship With My Son

Breastfeeding child while managing D-MER

It was a feeling that came out of nowhere. Here I was, a Mommy of 3, four months into my third breastfeeding journey with my youngest, committed and determined to nurse him at least a year, when suddenly, I could not stand the thought of nursing him one more time.

My son was a champion nurser from the get-go; his first latch was perfection, our debut nursing session lasting almost 45 minutes, an anomaly that most of the nurses in the hospital had never witnessed. We came home from the hospital and he continued to be an eager and willing breastfeeding baby, happy and content to hang out on my chest the majority of his first few months of life.



The Shift

Just as we began to settle into our new normal as a family of five, my feelings towards breastfeeding began to shift. He was, after all, my third baby and I went into our nursing journey with the idea that we would continue as long as it was working for all of us. If we reached a point where I couldn’t do it any longer, for whatever reason, we would stop and switch to formula, no questions about it. Despite introducing the bottle to him early, around 4 months old, he suddenly wanted nothing to do with anything that wasn’t me. At first I brushed it off; both of his big sisters had preferred nursing over a bottle but would eventually give in, so I wasn’t overly concerned. It wasn’t until I left one afternoon to go run some errands and came home to a hysterical baby and a distraught husband who had tried desperately to get him to take a bottle of pumped milk to no avail, that I realized I was no longer making the decisions regarding our nursing relationship; our little guy wanted his Mommy and that was that.


The wave of negative feelings while breastfeeding

Perhaps it was the loss of control or perhaps it was the constant, erratic, unpredictable shift in hormones that all nursing and postpartum Moms experience, but from that moment on, every time I sat down to nurse my hungry little guy, I was hit with a wave of unrelenting negativity. As soon as he would latch, my entire body would get flushed, my heart rate would increase, my mind would flood with everything from irritability (Seriously? You just freaking ate) to sadness (Am I ever going to have my body back?) to down right anger (Get off me, get off me right now!), and I had to fight the urge to break his latch, lay him down, and walk away from him. After a minute or two, lots of deep breaths, and forcing myself to focus on something, anything, besides nursing, the negative feelings would subside and I was left questioning my sanity and wondering what the hell was wrong with me.


Staying silent

I didn’t tell anyone about the negative feelings I was having towards nursing, fearful that if I said the words aloud I would be admitting defeat and living up to my fears of being a horrible mother.


The breakdown

Eventually though, after a particularly long and challenging day being a Mom to two big girls and a 7-month-old baby going through our hardest growth spurt to date, I broke down in tears to my husband as my screaming baby latched on and I was once again flooded with negativity. ‘I just need him to get off of me!’ I yelled. ‘I can’t do this anymore. I give up. I’m being suffocated…I just need some space!’ I sobbed. My husband swiftly and calmly scooped up the baby and took him upstairs and rocked him as I sat on the couch, utterly disgusted with myself and my overreaction.


Discovering D-MER

After a few minutes sitting in our quiet, dimly light living room, I felt my sanity return and a sudden need to understand what was happening to me and why I was feeling what I was feeling. I typed the words ‘irritability while breastfeeding’ into Google and was overwhelmed with information detailing exactly what I was experiencing and the scientific, hormonal reasoning behind it. Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflux, or D-MER, is defined as ‘a condition affecting lactating women that is characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes.’ [source: d-mer.org]


Managing D-MER

Armed with this new found knowledge, I suddenly felt more in control and empowered knowing that I was not alone in these feelings and that there were simple, counteractive measures I could take to overcome, or at least manage, my D-MER. Deep breathing through the negative feelings, focusing on and talking to my older kids, finding an interesting article to read before I sat down to nurse, and singing softly to my sweet little baby all helped me ignore the brief and overwhelming drop in dopamine that, for whatever reason, was affectingly me so strongly this time around.

I’m proud to say I was able to nurse my son until after we celebrated his first birthday when we were mutually ready to end our journey together.  Becoming a Mom is a beautiful, amazing experience whether it’s your first time or your tenth, but hormonally our bodies are on a roller coaster of highs and lows; don’t be afraid to speak up, ask for help, cry, go for a run, binge watch a show, do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. After all we’ve put our bodies through, we’ve earned it.

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  • Nursing my 4th baby as I read this. I am so happy to know now what is happening to me! I’ve had that reaction with all of my babies but it only lasts for the first few months. After the first baby I caught on that it goes away quickly and it was easier to get through and brush off when I knew it ended. I always told my husband I don’t know what I want to do. Scream or cry or drop the baby and run down the street. Whew! Thankful to have a name and a real reason!

  • After the birth of my first child, I experienced D-MER almost every time my milk let down. (Which can happen multiple times during a nursing session and at random times throughout the day.) It took me a long time to figure out what was going on because for me, the feelings of anxiety, sadness, pit-in-my-stomach, “I want to run away” feeling would only last about 30 seconds to a minute.

    I finally found help by googling my symptoms and discovering a wonderful website, D-MER.org, which explained my feelings to a “t” and helped me figure out the cause of this issue!

    DMER is CAUSED by your dopamine levels dropping too low when your milk lets down (it is necessary for dopamine to drop in order for prolactin to rise and thus milk be “let down.”) When the dopamine acts inappropriately it CAUSES D-MER, and thus, DMER can be FIXED!!

    Based on the wonderful information on D-MER.org, I decided to try the natural supplement “Velvet Bean/Mucuna Pruriens” which I found at my nearest local health food store. Within a few days I could tell a difference and by the time I finished the bottle my D-MER never reared its head again!!

    I have nursed for 3 1/2 subsequent years now and have never experienced that feeling of DMER again. I am so thankful.

    I have shared the website and information with many friends, some of whom chose to use the Mucuna Pruriens like I did and others who used Rhodiola (another natural supplement reccomended by D-MER.org), all with very good results. I also found that just KNOWING that it was a chemical “reflex” and not an emotional issue I was having/choosing helped me cope with it a lot as well.

    I hope that this information helps other mamas! Thank you for helping get the word out about this difficulty!

  • Thank you for this article. It’s so great to see awareness coming out about D-MER. I suffered from this with my second child. It was so empowering to put a name to what I was experiences. I was also an exclusive pumper. It made that already difficuly journey so much harder. But we got through it ❤❤

  • Katy, thank you!! Every sentence struck a chord with me.
    I had DMER whilst feeding my twins. I talked to a psychiatrist about it, and he HADN’T HEARD OF IT!! Crazy, but true. I was on antidepressants for PND. I found that increasing my dose helped a bit, but mostly (like you) I had to breathe through it.

    I’ve had 2 more babies since then and although I’ve had moments of DMER with them, never to the extent I had it with the twins. I guess the double dose of hormones made it worse.

    Good luck to all those suffering with DMER, you can keep feeding if you want to, but you know also that it is TOTALLY ok to stop too!

  • I just found out about DMER and all the sudden nursing my older daughter made so much more sense. I used to say my oxytocin was broken because when I fed her, instead of feeling lovey dovey I would catch myself staring off into space and feeling like the world was a hellhole and we were all doomed. Then I would feel normal a couple minutes later. Fortunately I haven’t had it this time around!

  • Such an interesting read! I wasn’t aware such thing even existed or that women ever felt this way! I’m currently pregnant with my first and plan on breastfeeding if I feel comfortable and if I feel that it is right for me and our babe. And I plan on carrying on breastfeeding for as long as I feel fit. I’m glad I’ve learnt about this D-MER so I’m aware if I begin to feel this way. x x x

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