Nausea while breastfeeding

The interplay between oxytocin and stress hormones is a fascinating aspect of our neuroendocrine system. Cortisol and oxytocin are both regulated by the hypothalamus, a critical part of the brain that helps maintain hormonal balance. The hypothalamus plays a pivotal role in maintaining the balance between these hormones.

Oxytocin is produced in the paraventricular nucleus inside the hypothalamus, a small but crucial part of the brain that regulates many autonomic functions. From the hypothalamus, oxytocin is transported to and released by the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream which then travels to the breast and causes the pulsatile contractions known as the Milk Ejection Reflex (let down).

In response to stress, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH prompts the anterior pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, preparing the body for a 'fight-or-flight' response. The hypothalamus coordinates the release of CRH and oxytocin, attempting to balance the stress response with mechanisms that promote recovery and resilience

These hormones counteract each other: cortisol increases alertness and stress, while oxytocin reduces anxiety and fosters calmness, helping to restore equilibrium in the body's stress response system

What Causes Let-Down Nausea?

The sudden surge of oxytocin, combined with fluctuating levels of other hormones released by the hypothalamus, can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can sometimes trigger nausea. This response is similar to the body's reaction to certain stressors or stimuli

Breastfeeding is both physically and emotionally demanding. Anxiety, lack of sleep, and overall stress can exacerbate nausea during let-down

Blood Sugar Levels: Low blood sugar, a common issue for new mothers who might skip meals or eat irregularly, can also cause or worsen nausea as hormones are fluctuating during breastfeeding

Managing breastfeeding nausea

Hydration and Nutrition: Ensure you're staying well-hydrated and eating balanced meals regularly. Small, frequent meals rich in protein and complex carbohydrates can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce nausea, especially when eaten a few minutes before moving milk

Relaxation Techniques: Practice deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga to reduce overall stress. Creating a calm and comfortable environment during breastfeeding or pumping  can help

Homesick feeling while breastfeeding: DMER

Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) During Breastfeeding

Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) is a condition that affects some breastfeeding mothers, characterized by negative emotions that occur just before or during milk letdown. Unlike postpartum depression or anxiety, D-MER is specifically linked to the physiological process of milk release. Understanding D-MER is important for providing support and effective management for affected mothers.

What is D-MER?

D-MER is a sudden and brief wave of negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, irritability, or even a sense of dread, that occurs just before the milk ejection reflex. These feelings typically last only a few minutes and resolve once milk flow begins.

Symptoms of D-MER

Symptoms of D-MER vary in intensity and nature but are generally negative and unpleasant. They can include:
- **Sadness or Despair**: Feeling profoundly sad or hopeless.
- **Anxiety or Panic**: Experiencing a sense of anxiety, panic, or nervousness.
- **Irritability or Anger**: Sudden feelings of irritability or anger.
- **Dread or Guilt**: A sense of dread or guilt with no apparent cause.
- **Emotional Numbness**: Feeling emotionally detached or numb.

Causes of D-MER

The exact cause of D-MER is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the hormonal changes that occur during breastfeeding:
- **Dopamine Regulation**: D-MER is thought to involve a rapid drop in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, which occurs to allow prolactin (the hormone responsible for milk production) to rise.
- **Hormonal Imbalance**: The sudden shift in hormone levels during milk letdown can trigger the dysphoric response.

Distinguishing D-MER from Other Conditions

D-MER is distinct from other emotional or psychological conditions like postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA):
- **Timing**: D-MER is closely linked to the act of breastfeeding and the letdown reflex, whereas PPD and PPA are more constant and pervasive.
- **Duration**: The negative emotions in D-MER are short-lived, lasting only a few minutes during milk letdown.
- **Specificity**: D-MER symptoms are specifically triggered by breastfeeding, not by other activities or events.

Managing D-MER

While D-MER can be distressing, several strategies can help manage the condition:

1. **Education and Awareness**: Understanding that D-MER is a physiological response and not a reflection of your emotional state can provide reassurance. Knowing that it is a temporary and normal reaction can reduce anxiety about the condition.

2. **Support System**: Talk to a healthcare provider, lactation consultant, or support group about your experiences. Support from others who understand D-MER can be invaluable.

3. **Stress Reduction**: Engage in stress-reducing activities such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle physical activities like walking or yoga to help manage overall stress levels.

4. **Hydration and Nutrition**: Maintain a healthy diet and stay well-hydrated to support overall well-being and potentially mitigate some of the symptoms.

5. **Monitor and Track**: Keep a journal to track when D-MER symptoms occur, their intensity, and any possible triggers. This information can be helpful for discussing with your healthcare provider.

6. **Medications**: In some cases, medications that help regulate dopamine levels may be considered. Always discuss with a healthcare provider before starting any medication.

When to Seek Help

If D-MER symptoms are severe, persistent, or interfere significantly with your ability to breastfeed or care for your baby, it is important to seek professional help. A healthcare provider or mental health professional can offer guidance and treatment options tailored to your needs.


D-MER is a challenging but manageable condition that affects some breastfeeding mothers. By recognizing the symptoms, understanding the causes, and implementing effective management strategies, mothers can continue to breastfeed while minimizing the impact of D-MER. Support from healthcare professionals, lactation consultants, and peer groups can make a significant difference in navigating this experience.