No matter how many books parents read or classes they take, it seems like nothing prepares parents-to-be for postpartum life, especially when feeding a newborn. It’s just kind of something you have to dive into and learn as you go. That being said, on top of everything that comes with newborn life (sleepless nights, no schedule, etc.), there is something extra overwhelming about feeding and nursing, whether breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding (or all three at once!).
Sometimes, the process of pumping or nursing can bring on intense emotions, which most moms usually chalk up to just some normal postpartum hormones. These feelings, often dark in theme, can make moms feel guilty, scared or ashamed.
One mom has brought this sensation to light, noting that not nearly enough people are talking about what might explain these dark emotions new moms grapple with. It’s called a Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.
What Is Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex?
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) is a sudden emotional “drop” that some women experience just before a milk release. These feelings are only for a brief moment but can range in severity from sadness to rage.
While research is still ongoing and limited, most current research suggests that D-MER is hormonally driven, and related to the chemicals in a postpartum body. The issues have a lot more to do with a lactating person’s physical makeup rather than their psychological makeup. It’s physical, not psychological. D-MER is the body reacting to the release of milk due to a sudden decrease in specific hormones.
According to one study, an estimated 5% and 9% of lactating people experience D-MER.
What does the milk ejection reflex feel like?
In her TikTok video, Alyssa Ice was filming a “Day In The Life” type video when she suddenly had a moment of D-MER. As she speaks to the camera while beginning to pump, she says that she “caught a bad episode of Dysphoric Milk Ejection.”
Alyssa, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion, begins to tear up and cry before staring off into space, seemingly in deep thought. When she comes to, Alyssa speaks to her audience about what just occurred.
“I love breastfeeding, like don’t get me wrong, but this is like, really really hard,” she explained, referring to these dysphoric moments during a letdown.
She explained that she didn’t even know what was happening to her until she saw other women posts about the same kind of experience in a Facebook group. Alyssa described the feeling for her as “anxiety or impending doom.”
“It’s gotten a little bit worse over the last few weeks,” she admitted. “I feel like I’m gonna throw up. The second I start pumping, I feel like I’m gonna start throwing up. I feel like I’m gonna start crying, or I start crying a little bit, and it only lasts for like a minute or so, but it’s very, very, very hard to deal with mentally.”
“Because literally, in that one minute, your mind is just going through these horrible, horrible thoughts, or like … you feel really, really sad.”
Alyssa goes on to say that she feels the need to share her story to help other moms who may be confused about how they’re feeling during pumping or nursing.
She said, “I just think it’s so crazy that up until it’s happening to me, like I’ve never heard about this before,” she said. “I don’t see there being any conversations about it, and I feel like it’s really important to talk about something like this because there’s mothers out there who are breastfeeding, who could be feeling this way, and not know that like it’s normal, or you know, it could discourage them to stop their breastfeeding journey.”
What causes D-MER?
When breastfeeding, the body releases prolactin, a hormone necessary for milk production, as well as oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that triggers the milk flow or ejection from the breasts when a baby suckles (pumping begins). Oxytocin is a suppressant for dopamine, which means dopamine levels decrease.
Some people’s dopamine levels drop very quickly and cause a sudden feeling of unhappiness and other negative emotions. Researchers still do not have a pinpointed reason for why this happens to certain people.
How do you stop dysphoric milk ejection reflex?
Some things can be done to help curb the effects of D-MER. Some effective forms of D-MER treatment may include increasing skin-to-skin contact or distracting oneself during a feed or pumping session by eating or watching a TV show.
Feeding parents should also avoid certain foods and drinks that may be linked to an increase in anxiety and stress such as caffeine. Prioritizing sleep over less important activities can also be a game changer. Lack of sleep makes symptoms of D-MER worse for some women. Basically, the dirty dishes are not more important than your mental health.
After Alyssa’s video went viral, several other moms shared their personal experiences with D-MER, noting that they had no idea that their sudden shift in emotions while pumping or feeding was an actual medical condition.
“I can’t believe that I’m just discovering this! When I breastfed my baby I would cry every time and feel overwhelmed in loneliness,” one user said.
Another echoed, “I had NO IDEA this was a thing! I have so many journal entries of me saying how much I hated pumping.”
“I am going through this now and never had with my first two babies so I thought something was wrong with me!” one TikToker commented.
“Glad to now know what this is! I felt this with my 1st and gave up, tried again with my 2nd. and it happened again and I was like nope! Along with the cramping, I couldn’t handle it. When I had my last, I just went straight to formula feeding. I wasn’t going through that again. Horrible feeling!”