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The Postpartum Blog

Why Do I Feel Sad, Mad, or Scared When I’m Breastfeeding?

While breastfeeding can be an amazing experience, any new parent can tell you it also has its challenges. You've probably heard of low milk supply, painful nipples, and the exhaustion that comes from those marathon nursing sessions. Some parents may even experience unexpected emotions while breastfeeding, such as sadness, anger, or fear. If you're experiencing these emotions, you might have Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER).

The milk ejection reflex releases milk from your breasts, caused by an increase in the hormone oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the "love hormone".) For some, however, this reflex coincides with feelings of dread, sadness, irritation, and/or anger. For this group of people, it is thought that the increase in oxytocin causes inappropriate dopamine activity, creating these negative emotions.

Untitled design 2023 05 09T144643.589 Postpartum Counselling Centre

While approximately 9% of people breastfeeding have reported these feelings, it is important to note that it is not a psychological condition. In fact, D-MER is a physiological response, meaning it’s like a hiccup, a reflex based in the body. Most people find that these feelings last between a few and up to 10 minutes. It’s important to understand that D-MER is not something you're making up or imagining, and it is not your fault. This stigma has created a very isolating and lonely experience for people who have D-MER.

What can I do if I experience D-MER?

Like the Patronus spell for the dementors of Harry Potter, there are some techniques and strategies that can help you move through D-MER with more ease:

  • Knowing that it’s real and not “in your head” is an important first step.
  • Try deep breathing.
  • Practicing mindfulness/meditation.
  • Increasing skin-to-skin time with your baby.
  • Stress management.
  • Self-care practices (e.g. staying hydrated, feeding yourself, getting sleep when you can).
  • Using heat (hot water bottle/microwave heat pack) on your shoulders/back.
  • Creating a relaxing/happy playlist for while you’re breastfeeding.
  • Connecting with other people who have D-MER (join an active Facebook support group or talk to an IBCLC).
  • Tracking symptoms and aggravating factors (e.g. stress, dehydration, fatigue, etc.).

When will this end?

Most parents find that D-MER symptoms improve after the first few months of breastfeeding, while others notice that D-MER lingered until their babies weren’t exclusively breastfed. If your symptoms are overwhelming, try to check in with an IBCLC for further support on your breastfeeding goals or weaning strategies. Don’t know where to find an IBCLC? Ask your family doctor or midwife for help connecting. Here are a few that we recommend:

If these symptoms show up outside of your letdown, you may be experiencing a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). These are very common (affecting approximately 1 in 5 parents). Reach out to Postpartum Counselling London or other therapists with specialized training in Perinatal Mental Health for support. You do not need to do this alone.

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Why Do I Feel Sad, Mad, or Scared When I’m Breastfeeding?

By: Laura Brunskill MSW, RSW
May 9, 2023

While breastfeeding can be an amazing experience, any new parent can tell you it also has its challenges. You've probably heard of low milk supply, painful nipples, and the exhaustion that comes from those marathon nursing sessions. Some parents may even experience unexpected emotions while breastfeeding, such as sadness, anger, or fear. If you're experiencing these emotions, you might have Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER).

The milk ejection reflex releases milk from your breasts, caused by an increase in the hormone oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the "love hormone".) For some, however, this reflex coincides with feelings of dread, sadness, irritation, and/or anger. For this group of people, it is thought that the increase in oxytocin causes inappropriate dopamine activity, creating these negative emotions.

Untitled design 2023 05 09T144643.589 Postpartum Counselling Centre

While approximately 9% of people breastfeeding have reported these feelings, it is important to note that it is not a psychological condition. In fact, D-MER is a physiological response, meaning it’s like a hiccup, a reflex based in the body. Most people find that these feelings last between a few and up to 10 minutes. It’s important to understand that D-MER is not something you're making up or imagining, and it is not your fault. This stigma has created a very isolating and lonely experience for people who have D-MER.

What can I do if I experience D-MER?

Like the Patronus spell for the dementors of Harry Potter, there are some techniques and strategies that can help you move through D-MER with more ease:

  • Knowing that it’s real and not “in your head” is an important first step.
  • Try deep breathing.
  • Practicing mindfulness/meditation.
  • Increasing skin-to-skin time with your baby.
  • Stress management.
  • Self-care practices (e.g. staying hydrated, feeding yourself, getting sleep when you can).
  • Using heat (hot water bottle/microwave heat pack) on your shoulders/back.
  • Creating a relaxing/happy playlist for while you’re breastfeeding.
  • Connecting with other people who have D-MER (join an active Facebook support group or talk to an IBCLC).
  • Tracking symptoms and aggravating factors (e.g. stress, dehydration, fatigue, etc.).

When will this end?

Most parents find that D-MER symptoms improve after the first few months of breastfeeding, while others notice that D-MER lingered until their babies weren’t exclusively breastfed. If your symptoms are overwhelming, try to check in with an IBCLC for further support on your breastfeeding goals or weaning strategies. Don’t know where to find an IBCLC? Ask your family doctor or midwife for help connecting. Here are a few that we recommend:

If these symptoms show up outside of your letdown, you may be experiencing a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). These are very common (affecting approximately 1 in 5 parents). Reach out to Postpartum Counselling London or other therapists with specialized training in Perinatal Mental Health for support. You do not need to do this alone.

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