D-MER Makes Breastfeeding A Literal Nightmare

by Gwen Skar
A mother struggling with D-MER in a beige T-shirt breastfeeding her baby in a white beanie on a dark...
PhotoAlto/Anne-Sophie Bost / Getty

When I had my first child, I was nervous about everything—especially breastfeeding. It being my first experience as a mother, I had no idea what to expect. I just knew, because I’d been told by many, that I had to breastfeed by baby. Formula was evil and not good for my baby or for me. Apparently, breastfeeding would bond us.

It did not.

I spent the first few weeks of my son’s life wondering what was wrong with me. Why did I feel so awful every time I breastfed him? And then I found out. At my sister’s suggestion I’d begun following a blogger—a wonderful mom with a great sense of humor—and she wrote about the joys and pains of breastfeeding, including a relatively unknown condition called D-MER.

I remember sitting in my nursing chair and realizing it wasn’t my fault. Every time I let down, I felt anxiety, panic, anger, and, oddly enough, homesickness. It was because of D-MER.

Because Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) is a relatively new topic, you may have never heard of it. There’s also not a lot of information about it. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, “D-MER is characterized by negative emotions, that occur seconds before a mother’s milk ejection reflex when breastfeeding or expressing or with a spontaneous MER (i.e. milk releasing when not breastfeeding or expressing).”, a website created by International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Alia Macrina Heise, notes that “D-MER has been linked to an inappropriate drop in dopamine that occurs whenever milk is released. In a mother with D-MER, at the time of letdown dopamine falls inappropriately, causing negative feelings.”

In short, it is not the mother’s fault and most women cannot just power through it.

I continued to breastfeed my oldest despite my self-diagnosis because it did not occur to me that I could or should get help from my doctor. At five months, he refused to nurse, so I pumped for seven months. The feelings related to D-MER still persisted (though some women have no symptoms of D-MER while pumping). Still, I did not reach out to my doctor. I pushed through. I shouldn’t have.

When my second child was born, I knew what to expect, so I would find ways to distract myself whenever I breastfed. The second time around, it wasn’t as bad. I made it ten months before my supply tanked.

With my third child, I’d decided to conquer D-MER. I was on anti-depression and anxiety meds that were working fine. I knew what D-MER felt like and knew I could survive it. For the first three months, things were fine.

Until they weren’t. I started having panic attacks, and my depression worsened. I finally got the help I needed and, at six months postpartum, decided it was time to be done breastfeeding.

Now, I’m 22 weeks pregnant with baby number 4. Before I became pregnant, I’d already decided that I would not breastfeed this baby. Fed is best and my baby will be fed. I chose a partner who supports my decision. (I think he may even be excited—he’s always been a little jealous of the bond breastfeeding gave me and the children). I also have an OBGYN and a psychiatrist who support my decision. No one has shamed me for this. In fact, all have praised me for making this decision for me and my family.

Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. Maybe you don’t have D-MER. Maybe you have other reasons for not breastfeeding. Whatever your reason, trust your gut.

If you are suffering from D-MER, or think you have in the past, talk to your doctor asap. Don’t wait like I did.