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Why Does Breastfeeding Make Me Sad?

August is National Breastfeeding Month and, August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week. Today we’re going to discuss a topic close to my heart: D-MER.

“Why does breastfeeding make me sad?”, you wonder as you settle into your chair, attach your babe to breast, and begin to nurse. As soon as you feel the let-down that sadness overwhelms you. Tears stream down your cheeks as you press through knowing you are doing what is best for your precious newborn.

All your friends talk about the euphoria they experience when nursing. Doctors and lactation consultants talk about Oxytocin and how it helps bonding occur by producing happy, “in love” feelings in your brain. What you’re feeling is the furthest from that. You wonder, “Why does breastfeeding make me sad? What is wrong with me?”

Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex or D-MER

According to d-mer.org, “Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex is 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. Dysphoria is defined as an unpleasant or uncomfortable mood, such as sadness, depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, or restlessness.”

Between 8-10% of women experience D-MER. It’s important to realize you are not alone. Those feelings of sadness, although not normal, are common.

What causes D-MER?

D-MER is caused by a drop in Dopamine levels in the brain at time of let-down. As Oxytocin levels rise, Dopamine drops to allow Prolactin (milk-producing hormone) to rise so your body can produce milk. If Dopamine levels drop too low, D-MER occurs. Usually, Dopamine drops, milk lets down, and you and your baby feel great. You don’t even notice the drop. However, in women who experience D-MER, the drop is significant enough to cause them to experience feelings of sadness and restlessness.

Treating D-MER

Now that we have answered the question “Why does breastfeeding make me sad?”, let’s look at ways to help you feel better.

  • Education: Learning about D-MER, how it works, connecting with other moms, and reading other people’s stories can help one learn how to cope. If you know what is happening, instead of dreading it, you can adjust your thinking by telling yourself it’s just your hormones readjusting and you will feel better as soon as they do.
  • Lifestyle changes: More rest, better eating habits, better hydration, and exercise are a few of the things that can help with management.
  • Natural remedies: A local, certified herbalist can help develop tea or herbal tonics to help hormone levels. In addition, some women have found acupuncture to be beneficial.
  • Prescription treatment: Some women, with more severe D-MER, may find they need prescription medication to help balance out their Dopamine level.

Breastfeeding with D-MER doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Your local La Leche League has great support groups that can help. There are tons of resources out there so you never again have to wonder, “Why does breastfeeding make me sad?”


About the Author

Christine Santos

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Owner of Sun State Doulas, Christine is passionate about pregnancy, birth, and parenting issues that affect mainstream families. She is mother to 3 girls and is an active member of the roller derby community. Her favorite quote is, “Not my body, not my baby, not my birth, not my choice.”

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