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Nursing and Anxiety: The Truth about D-MER

by Courtney Loughney

As I sat to nurse my first born, a rush of anxiety came over me from head to toe. Wait a minute—how could this be? What is wrong with me? Every class I took, every article I read about breastfeeding ensured me of a euphoric, relaxed feeling when my milk would let down. Perhaps the need for a tall glass of water, but anxious enough to jump out of my own skin? I don’t remember reading that!

The truth is, I was suffering from Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) but had no idea. In fact, I had never even heard of it. Ashamed to tell a single soul that I was secretly crying when I nursed her in private, I was seriously struggling through what others acclaim to be the most amazing bonding experience between mother and baby. I envied mothers who easily fed their babies and exhibited a sense of tranquility during the process.

My goal to nurse my baby for her first year ended after seven months. Thus a new guilt arose—quitting. How could I have given up? I ran into my lactation consultant, Katie, and the truth finally came out: I felt anxious when my milk would let down, so I quit nursing. Katie went on a mission to research what was actually going on and found that I was suffering from D-MER.

Fast forward two years, when I was preparing for the arrival of my second child. By then, more research had been done, and even treatment options were available. Katie and I worked proactively together to find the best treatment option for me if D-MER were to return. My baby boy arrived and with the very first latch, the feeling of dysphoria rushed over me yet again, but not the feeling of disappointment. This time was different. This time I knew what I was feeling, I could put a label on it, and I could pinpoint when it was going to happen. This time I was in control and I was not going to be robbed of this first year of bonding with my baby. By practicing acceptance; using the herb rhodiola as a natural method of treatment; and having support from my lactation consultant, family, and friends, I went on to nurse my second child for his first year.

Tips for Managing D-MER:

  1. Practice Acceptance: D-MER acts as a reflex and occurs when dopamine levels drop inappropriately low during milk ejection; thus brief negative feelings occur until dopamine levels stabilize. The dysphoria feeling is caused by hormones, not by you. Understanding and accepting the reflex for what it is is the first step to effectively managing it.
  2. Practice Mindfulness: It’s time to nurse your baby, and you’re feeling anxious about feeling anxious. Stop right there. Acknowledge the feeling without trying to change it. Say to yourself, “I am feeling anxious and that is okay. It is okay for me to feel anxious.” Switch your mindset. You are feeling anxious about the future; however, in this present moment, you are here. Breathe in “I am.” Breathe out “here.”
  3. Visualize the Wave: Baby is latched, ready to go, and you’re anticipating the wave. Let it ride. Imagine you are a full body of water, and each wave an emotion. The wave begins, peaks, and then subsides. Close your eyes and ride the wave until it subsides, focusing on your breath; once the wave has finished you will return to a peaceful body of water.
  4. Talk About it: My first mistake was being ashamed; the second, not talking about it. When I opened up about my journey with D-MER I realized that no one was judging me or thinking that I was a terrible mother. Talking about it not only helped me, but I realized by spreading the word I was helping other mothers as well.

Join us for the Delaware Climb Out of Darkness Walk for Postpartum Depression.

About the Author:

Courtney Loughney, M.Ed, RYT

Courtney has been a yoga instructor for ten years and is the owner of Le Petit Yogi. Courtney teaches yoga and mindfulness to new mamas and youth so they can learn how to identify stress in their lives and manage it effectively and sustainably. With these tools, they are able to live a long, healthy, and happy life.

Following the birth of her first child, Courtney found herself struggling. Currently she is creating an individualized postnatal wellness program that incorporates yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and emotional support for mothers during the first few months after baby’s arrival.

Stay updated on Courtney’s yoga classes, postnatal wellness program, and more by liking Le Petit Yogi on Faceboook.