There is a physiological reaction that occurs in some women when breastfeeding that results in an improper drop of dopamine levels at the onset of letdown so instead of dropping naturally, they stay risen for longer (D-Mer.org). This hormonal shift is momentary, but can be quite significant. When this happens, the mother will feel a few moments of overwhelming sadness or even grief. Because postpartum and early days of nursing aren't difficult enough as is, eh?
Welcome to D-MER. Also known as Dysfunctional Milk Ejection Reflex, this disorder was for a long time lumped in with the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression. Because it was felt as sadness, irritability or restlessness, it was seen as a psychological impairment. As research has grown, there is an understanding of a spectrum of dysphoria and the way it presents itself, and can include nursing, expressing by hand or pump, or sometimes even in spontaneous letdown (www.d-mer.org). During a letdown through any of those methods, the body's imbalance of hormones creates very uncomfortable feelings in the nursing individual. These feelings are often describes as a variety of negative emotions. I have actually had it with all three babies, and the feeling would vary in intensity pending my postpartum mental state, but they all involved an intense wave of overwhelming grief or sadness. This would sometimes be followed by intense irritation and restlessness where I would be angry that the baby was nursing, and it felt like I had severe Restless Leg Syndrome. With my first, I was in the midst of severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, so obviously this just felt like something else I was losing my mind over. I had to be the only one who got sick to my stomach each time I nursed. With my second I assumed it was a Vaso vagal reaction due to being triggered by the memories of the the bad times with my first. But I started doing some research and vaugely heard about D-MER, but did not read too much into it and just accepted it for what it was. It lasted the entire time I nursed and pumped with him. Now with my third, I knew more about D-Mer and did more research into the subject. I knew it couldn't be psychological, because I was not experiencing any Postpartum Depression episodes. It was a relief to learn for certain that there was nothing wrong with my head (at least related to this lol!), but that this was just a hormone imbalance that I had no control over.
When the Dysphoria occurs, it usually only lasts anywhere from 30 seconds - 2 minutes, but can occur with each letdown. The D-MER.org website also states that it is likely to decrease in intensity by the end of the fourth trimester (3 months postpartum), as that is generally when the hormones are returning to their pre-pregnancy levels, although this is not the case for every woman. Obviously stress levels and mental health will have a greater impact on this Dysphoric Reaction than it would naturally have own its own. It is important for women to understand if this is happening to them because like most things, awareness and education is key to not letting the effects become overwhelming. In my case, once I understood why i felt like sobbing uncontrollably or that the worst sadness ever in my life was being experienced, I could actually welcome the symptoms. By welcoming them, I kept reminding myself that those feelings meant I was making enough milk for my new baby and that he was being nourished. I would not recommend surrendering to the feelings for every woman if they feel it would push them over the edge, but for most women, just knowing that it is brief and that it is not anything psychological or something that they can control goes a long way to alleviating the intensity of the dysphoria.
Just know, if you are experiencing sadness, irritability, a hollow stomach or overwhelming grief when having letdowns, you are not crazy. You are not alone. And it would definitely be beneficial to seek diagnosis and research natural remedy methods such as diet, supplements and exercise to lessen the feelings. For more information on D-MER and understanding how to live with it without weaning, visit the following websites.