What it's like to live with the breastfeeding condition D-MER: 'I feel despair in the pit of my stomach'
Breastfeeding can be difficult, even under the best of circumstances. But there are certain things that can make the experience even harder for moms, including having a little-known condition that can cause extreme sadness when it's time to nurse.
It's called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, or D-MER, and many women — even those who have it — aren't aware that the condition exists. D-MER isn't well-studied or even well-known among all medical experts, but there are a few case reports about it. One report notes that D-MER is an emotional "drop" that happens in some women just before their milk is released while breastfeeding. Typically, it lasts for just a few minutes at a time and can cause a range of feelings, from wistfulness to self-loathing, per the report.
If you've ever had unusual feelings around breastfeeding, there's a chance you could have D-MER. Here's what it's like to have the condition, from women who have experienced it or are currently dealing with it.
"People just don't understand."
Wendy Roche is mom to three kids, ranging in age from 6 months to 14 years, and she tells Yahoo Life that she had D-MER with all three. "I had no idea what it was when I had my first," the 44-year-old New York resident says. "With my second, I Googled, 'Why do I feel homesick and sad when I pump?' That’s when I learned I wasn’t nuts — I have D-MER."
Roche says that her condition is "the worst it’s ever been" with her youngest child. "Generally I need to be without anyone in the room or at least have no one bothering me as feelings of nausea will intensify" while nursing or pumping, she says. Roche says that pumping in the morning "isn’t a problem" but, "as the day goes on, feelings intensify. I find myself dreading time to pump and delaying it but then becoming stressed I’m going to tank my supply."
Roche says she's "stuck" pumping because her baby has a cow's milk intolerance. "With his issue and specialty formula — formula in general — being hard to find and super-expensive, I have no choice," she says. Roche calls D-MER "a vicious cycle," adding that "people just don't understand."
"Every time my baby latches, I feel despair in the pit of my stomach."
North Carolina resident Justine Knight has a 4-month-old baby and tells Yahoo Life that she discovered she might have D-MER about three weeks after her daughter's birth, when she recognized a pattern in the way she was feeling.
She says D-MER feels like "a rush of homesickness and loss of appetite," adding that it can be hard to explain to people. "Every time my baby latches, I feel despair in the pit of my stomach," the 28-year-old says. Knight says that the condition also impacts how she feels about other things. "For example, if I'm in a conversation when D-MER hits, my conversation subject or the person I'm speaking to will start to make me sad," she says. "It isn't until I feel my milk let down a minute later that I realize it's D-MER impacting my mindset."
Knight spoke to both her OB-GYN and lactation consultant about her concerns that she might have D-MER; neither had ever heard of it. "Both said there's not much research and nothing they can do to help," she says. So, she's discovered coping mechanisms like drinking ice water, watching a TV show to distract her and eating her favorite chocolates when her milk drops. Her medical team "agreed that's the best I can do," she says. Knight says she's also educated her loved ones about how to help her.
"All I need to say is 'D-MER' to my husband and friends, and they know to keep the subject matter light and help me through the next few minutes," she says. "We avoid any decision-making, stop eating for a couple of minutes and acknowledge that the feeling is temporary."
"D-MER makes my body respond the same way it does when hearing devastating news."
Virginia mom Annessa Germond tells Yahoo Life that she noticed "intense symptoms" of D-MER after she had her first child but had "no clue what was going on."
"I actually thought that maybe this was the onset of postpartum depression," the 30-year-old says. "I was a doula and had never had a mother express symptoms like I was having."
Germond says that D-MER "makes my body respond the same way it does when hearing devastating news." She continues, "There is a tightness in my chest, a knot in my stomach, I instantly start tearing up and I would feel sad for no logical reason. I always equated it to being told that my husband had just died. That's what it felt like with every milk letdown."
Germond says she never got an official diagnosis from a medical provider until she was pregnant with her second child. She ended up discovering a Facebook support group for D-MER and said knowing other women were going through a similar experience made her symptoms feel easier to manage. "I had not changed anything, but I had support and didn't feel crazy when it was happening," she says. "It still happened with every milk letdown but I knew it would end in 45 seconds."
"I would have a panic attack or an incredible wave of homesickness."
Michele Murphy, 36, tells Yahoo Life that she had D-MER with her fourth pregnancy. "I believe I may have had it while nursing my first three, but I didn't recognize it at the time, or maybe it wasn't as bad," the Missouri mom says. With D-MER, Murphy says she would "have a 'letdown' feeling and then I would have a panic attack or an incredible wave of homesickness. It would last for 30 seconds, maybe a minute, and then go away."
Murphy says she discovered what she was dealing with after she Googled "letdown and then a panic attack." And, while her OB-GYN had heard of D-MER before, Murphy says that "she didn't know too much about it and didn't really have any advice on what to do when it happened or how to stop it."
Murphy says she didn't follow a specific treatment but would try to distract herself until the feeling passed. "I would focus on my baby," she says. "Stroke his hair or sniff him. Focusing on other pleasant sensory experiences was helpful."
"I felt like my skin was crawling, like I needed to get my son off of me ASAP."
Alabama resident Catherine Rider tells Yahoo Life that nursing was difficult for her, due to her son having a tongue tie, among other feeding issues. But she also struggled with D-MER at the same time. "At times, I felt like my skin was crawling, like I needed to get my son off of me ASAP," she says. "Occasionally I would get overwhelming urges to throw him across the room. I never did, and they were short but alarming."
The 34-year-old also says her stomach would feel like she was on a rollercoaster ride. "I often felt as though I would throw up before he was done eating," she says. "For the first few months, I even would get hives while he ate. ... It happened while nursing and while pumping, every time."
Murphy says she joined a local breastfeeding support group and had a lactation counselor who knew what Murphy was experiencing. "She was able to refer me to other practitioners for both my son and me who helped us and even understood D-MER," Murphy says. To make nursing more comfortable, Murphy says she tried taking magnesium, drinking cold water and doing breathing exercises. "What I found to help most was a piece of chocolate before nursing and the breathing exercises," she shares.
"I can become irritable and feel deeply annoyed."
Sade Simmons, 36, has a newborn and started experiencing D-MER after her son was born. "I experience waves of intense negative feelings that come on suddenly," the Texas mom tells Yahoo Life. "I can become irritable and feel deeply annoyed. I can also feel extremely overwhelmed, stressed and/or very anxious. At times, I also feel oddly nostalgic."
Simmons says she was diagnosed "after a particularly difficult night of cluster feeding and intense, continuous feelings of stress and anxiety." She Googled "anxiety + breastfeeding" and something about D-MER came up. "The more I read, the more I could relate," she says. "I brought it up to both my doula and lactation consultant, who both knew about D-MER and confirmed my experiences."
Simmons says that breathing exercises have been helpful for her, "especially during late-night feeds." She will also sometimes eat a snack or drink sparkling water to try to distract herself when her milk lets down. "I have also found that reminding myself my feelings are temporary and not representative of anything currently happening in my life, and that the wave will pass" can be helpful," she says.
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