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What is a dysphoric milk ejection reflex?

Some mothers might complaint that they get a sudden feeling of sadness while breastfeeding.This is related to the dysphoric milk ejection reflex.

All breastfeeding mothers experience ‘milk ejection reflex’ under the influence of the hormone- oxytocin.This reflex is responsible for the milk to flow down the breast. During the act of breastfeeding which goes on for 15 to 20 minutes, this, milk ejection reflex, is activated several times.

Some mothers experience an abrupt ‘emotional’ drop which occurs just before the milk release and continues for a few minutes. This dysphoria (which is opposite of euphoria) is defined as unpleasant or uncomfortable mood such as sadness, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, depressed mood, etc. However, these feelings are temporary and they come and go with each milk ejection reflex. So overall, the mother’s mood keeps fluctuating from good to bad, several times during the nursing sessions. This makes the act of breastfeeding a very traumatic experience for her. This is very often confused with postpartum depression (which it is not). The intensity of the dysphoria is related to the intensity of the reflex. So she may or may not experience these emotions during the milk ejection reflexes which happen spontaneously or during pumping sessions.

This happens because of the improper and excessive dip in the levels of certain hormones (like dopamine). Thus it is a medical problem and not simply an emotional upset. Mothers need to be explained about this, so that they can avoid certain trigger factors like stress, dehydration, caffeine. Symptoms may be reduced by extra rest, better hydration and exercise.

If the symptoms are very severe and the mother is about to quit breastfeeding, then along with proper education of the condition and lifestyle changes, she may be helped with certain medications.

So although the act of breastfeeding appears to be simple otherwise, a few mothers may have a different story to tell. If any mother is experiencing something like this, then remember you need to be patient and hope that the symptoms gradually subside.

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