The Anxiety I Had While Breastfeeding Is A Real Condition

sad breastfeeding mom at home at night

Research on this condition is only about 10 years in the making.

When I had my first child six years ago, I was grateful breastfeeding turned out to be, for the most part, a smooth ride.

After a visit with the hospital lactation consultants, who showed me the best breastfeeding positions and gave me the support I needed, I was on my way, and continued to breastfeed exclusively for the next 12 months.

In those early months, though, I’d experience something odd—and often frightening—that I never told anyone about. When my daughter latched on and my milk let down, an intense feeling of anxiety, panic and doom would wash over my entire body. For a brief moment—about 20 or 30 seconds—I had a sudden irrational fear that something bad was going to happen.

And as quickly as the feelings came, they went.

It was always unsettling and, at times, scary, but because I had struggled with anxiety for as long as I could remember, I chalked it up to biology and hormones.

When I gave birth to my second child two years later, I wasn’t surprised those same feelings surfaced once again. It was still unsettling, but thankfully, it didn’t affect my ability to breastfeed her for 13 months.

Yet it continued to nag at me, and as a health journalist, I wanted to know why. I’d often write about breastfeeding, and when I asked my sources if this was common, most of them had no idea what I was talking about. Then one day, I spoke to a lactation consultant and she told me what I had experienced was real and it had a name: D-MER: Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.

What Is D-MER?

D-MER is a “glitch” in the milk ejection reflex—the mechanism that allows breast milk to flow—and can cause negative emotions for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes at milk letdown, according to Alia Macrina Heise, IBCLC, CLE, CPD, a lactation consultant in Naples, New York, who is credited with pioneering research on D-MER.

In order to make breast milk, dopamine (a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain linked to feeling pleasure) levels must fall for prolactin (the hormone that helps women produce milk) levels to rise. But with D-MER, scientists believe too steep of a drop in dopamine during milk letdown leads to a chemical imbalance that…

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