Anxiety When Breastfeeding: A Hormonal Response, Not Mood Disorder
DMER (DMER) is a physiological response to the release of breast milk. It can feel like sadness or anxiety when breastfeeding. It is a hormonal reflex and is not an indicator of a mood disorder. The feelings should not last more than a few seconds or minutes. I remember wondering if my body or mind was telling me I didn’t like breastfeeding or wasn’t connected with my baby. Research shows D-MER to have no link to mother-baby bond and to be uncontrollable by the mother.
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How to Identify DMER
Many women learn about D-MER by searching things like “I feel sad when breastfeeding” or “I don’t know if my body likes breastfeeding.” According to d-mer.org, “Dysphoria is defined as an unpleasant or uncomfortable mood, such as sadness, depressed mood, anxiety, irritability, or restlessness. Etymologically, it is the opposite of euphoria.” In reference to D-MER we can see that the unpleasant or uncomfortable mood impacts the milk ejection reflex.
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DMER is Not a Mother Failing
It is important for moms to know that D-MER is not a failure or a direct reflection of their ability to breastfeed. The anxiety when breastfeeding is not an active choice to not attach to your baby or hold any negative feelings. This understanding can help moms to make an educated and supported choice on whether to continue feeding through the experience.
Some believe that things like nutrition, rest, exercise, reducing stress, and cutting back on caffeine can impact the hormones and improve D-MER symptoms. (I know, I know, all of those things can be hella hard to do when you have an infant!) Remember, your maternal mental health is always an important factor.
10 Things Moms on Instagram Said about DMER
When we brought up D-MER on Instagram, moms had a lot to say about it! Maybe some of their responses will resonate with you too:
- It was such a relief to realize I wasn’t alone. To love breastfeeding but experience that feeling of dread was so very confusing.
- You just solved something I thought I was making up. I say to myself “I’m just sleep deprived” or “I had too much caffeine today” but it comes and goes with my let down 2-3 times a day.
- I did not know this was a thing but have totally experienced this and wondered “What’s wrong with me?”
- My mother recounts this with my youngest sibling. She switched to formula and internalized not trusting herself with the baby for months.
- I had it through all three of my kids. Breastfed a total of 7 years. Deep breathing and mindfulness techniques helped.
- Totally had this. It was like a mini anxiety attack just as I was getting set up to pump and it would go away shortly after letdown.
- I felt this way sometimes and I felt so yucky! I couldn’t explain it because it almost came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly.
- With my first baby I would ball my eyes out the first 5-10 min of nursing her. I could be happy as could be, start nursing and tears would start flowing. I thought I was crazy.
- It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does it’s awful. That foreboding, sense of dread and anxiety. Someone said it’s a homesick feeling and that’s such a good explanation. Just dread.
- I told my mom about how I was feeling and she thought I was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
What to Do If You Have Anxiety While Breastfeeding
If you’re experiencing D-MER the first thing to know is that you’re not alone and you’re not doing something wrong. Our bodies have many changes and responses to pregnancy, birth and postpartum and it looks different for everyone. As your hormones are regulating, you may experience D-MER. If you do, remember it won’t last long and you can get through it.
1. Take deep breaths. (Almost like labor!)
2. Create a mantra Ex: This is only a moment and I accept this moment.
3. Stay connected
4. If it persists or becomes too much, talk with your doctor about
At some point, you may decide that breastfeeding is no longer a good fit for you. Trust your needs, your intuition, and your unique family journey. If you are working through this decision, check out this post on formula or breastmilk written for Zulily.