Science Explains the Connection Between Breastfeeding and Depression

The Connection Between Breastfeeding and Depression

Many new mothers feel a deep connection to their babies while breastfeeding them. For most, the experience allows them to bond with their child and evokes warm, comforting feelings. However, not all mothers thoroughly enjoy breastfeeding their babies. Indeed, it may cause depression and anxiety for some women for various reasons.

When new mothers experience near-constant low moods, it could signal postpartum depression. However, negative feelings that arise only after a feeding session may point to another condition. Scientists believe something called dysphoric milk ejection reflex, or D-MER, could be to blame.

This relatively unknown condition causes mothers to feel waves of intense depression during or after breastfeeding. Many women don’t understand why they feel this way and may even blame themselves. Since the condition isn’t widely known or studied, some new moms may feel isolated or alone in their experience.

However, one study found that up to 9% of breastfeeding women experience D-MER at some point. Currently, scientists have begun studying why certain women develop the condition and how to treat it.

What is D-MER?

Dysphoric milk ejection reflex causes a sudden influx of intrusive thoughts and heavy emotions during breastfeeding. It usually occurs as the milk begins flowing and may last for a few minutes.

Some people may dismiss these feelings, believing that it’s a psychological reaction to breastfeeding. However, experts have discovered that D-MER results from a physiological response caused by fluctuating hormones. So, women who experience this condition can feel better knowing it isn’t just in their heads.

Common Symptoms of D-MER

Symptoms may vary from person to person, but D-MER generally causes intense negative feelings. The most common signs of dysphoric milk ejection reflex include:

depression anger anxiety hopelessness feelings of paranoia or panic self-hatred or criticism feeling homesick or nostalgic a sense of overwhelming dread suicidal thoughts

Women may experience all or only a few of these symptoms, ranging from mild to intense. Most breastfeeding moms will notice them shortly after feeding and in the minutes following. Some women who experience mild or moderate symptoms may continue breastfeeding with no issues. However, moms with more severe symptoms may have such overwhelmingly negative feelings that they must formula feed instead.

Some women may feel confused since D-MER mimics the same symptoms as postpartum depression. However, the primary way to tell the difference involves the timing of symptoms. D-MER is likely to blame if they only occur during or immediately following breastfeeding. However, most moms find relief from their symptoms after a few minutes of feeding.

With postpartum depression, the feelings linger and can affect daily functioning, not just during breastfeeding. It may impair moms from adequately caring for themselves and their babies. D-MER causes a flood of negative emotions like depression, but the feelings usually dissipate.

Unfortunately, some women may experience both conditions simultaneously. Doctors may prescribe anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications for postpartum depression. Or, they may suggest therapy and self-care techniques such as relaxation or yoga.

If you have been experiencing symptoms for more than two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you formulate a treatment plan that works for you.

Why D-MER Causes Depression During Breastfeeding

The dysphoric milk ejection reflex may cause depression because of physiological responses during breastfeeding. While experts aren’t sure of the cause, they posit that D-MER occurs due to a sudden decrease in dopamine levels…


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