The dark and lonely side of breastfeeding that no-one is talking about.

It is meant to be a beautiful, bonding relationship? It is meant to be an amazing experience. Right?

Warning: Some of the below comments experienced by women may be disturbing to the reader.

It is meant to bring you joy and fulfilment, and nourish your baby in the most natural way possible.

But what if it doesn’t?

What if breastfeeding leaves you with “a deep, sad, dark feeling”?

What if it leaves you with “a horrible feeling of numbed panic”?

What if breastfeeding makes you feel “repulsion”?

Makes you want to harm yourself or your child?

Because for some women this is the reality of breastfeeding.

And many of these women feel terribly alone not knowing the feelings they have aren’t unusual, and more importantly that it isn’t their fault.

This little known syndrome is called D-MER or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.

There don’t seem to be any official figures as to what percentage of women suffer this because many simply won’t talk about it for fear of it being dismissed or them being labelled ‘crazy’.

These perfectly normal mums struggle with feelings like this:

“It feels like my world is about to end. It feels like a sick feeling in my stomach and I get a guilty lonely feeling as well.”

“I’m experiencing horrible feelings when she’s feeding – like a crawling sensation, a hot flushing in my chest, a rising anger, and I want to literally rip her off the breast. I get angry and frustrated until she has finished (or I pull myself away) and I feel resentful for up to 10min afterwards. Then I feel guilty.”

“There were even occasions where it caused such a severe emotional reaction that just for a passing moment I would sometimes even feel suicidal.”

The web site says that with some mothers who have only mild D-MER it is simply a “sigh” or a “pang.” However, on the other end of the scale of intensity, there are some mothers who feel extreme emotions resulting in suicidal ideation, thoughts of self-harm or feelings of anger.

One such mother wrote on the D-MER site saying:

“For me it ranged from mild irritation to intense feelings of rage and anger. I, at times, bit or scratched myself. I would gather myself and bottle feed in these instances.”

The relief that many women feel when they find out that they aren’t alone in these feelings is palpable.


“It’s anxiety that floods your mind. Guilt that overwhelms you. Fear that you’re the only one who’s ever gone through this.”

The key with d-mer is that these feelings seem to be short-lived.

One mother writes:

“I feel extremely sad and depressed and then 30 seconds later my milk lets down and the feeling is gone until my milk lets down again. When it happens I want to disappear, I don’t like being around anyone when it happens”.

Others say it culminates in anger:

“It felt like an overwhelming surge of anger, panic and frustration directed at my baby. It was a global feeling, but since he was in close proximity, it was easy to feel that it was towards him.”

The few D-MER experts say they have not successfully identified the cause, but that it could be to do with the hormone dopamine that is involved in milk production.

With so little known about the condition there is no known “cure”. But for the women who experience it there seems to be great relief in just giving the condition a name and in validating it by it being discussed.

“It feels horrible! Like something has a grip on me and I can’t shake it off. I want to run away from the feeling, yet embracing it for what it is and accepting that it will come but be only brief has enabled it to lessen some.”

Another D-MER mum says:

“I have always blamed it on hormones, but I’m excited to hear that I’m not the only one!”

With the lack of information around about D-MER lactation experts say it is important to point out that this isn’t the only syndrome that affects nursing mothers. There is a very similar sensation – but just as equally valid and frightening – which is often referred to as “breastfeeding aversion” – this differs slightly as it seems to occur for mothers of older toddlers, or those who are breastfeeding while pregnant.

Breastfeeding aversion has likened breastfeeding to the sensation “fingernails on a blackboard”.

“While I was pregnant, when my son wanted to feed I dreaded having to do it, felt almost repulsed the whole time, it made my skin crawl, I felt ‘wrong’ and it lasted during the whole feed, sometimes getting worse during the feed,” writes one mother on a popular forum.

Others agree.

“I remember that feeling well – I wanted to crawl out of my skin and run away sometimes. I found counting really helped – count up to 30 then back down. I’d set myself a limit like get through that 2 or 3 times while consciously keeping my body relaxed, then end (or try to end!) the feed.”

What unites these mothers is the knowledge that these feelings are not unusual, and not their fault. By speaking about them they urge other mums who may be going through this to speak out too.

If you need help with issues such as these contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268.

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