Post-weaning depression is very real for many moms, but many don’t recognize the signs until it hits.1 And it can hit hard. If you’re no stranger to postpartum, you’ll know there’s never a dull moment. Our hormones and emotions constantly fluctuate with the changes our bodies continuously adapt to. Ending our breastfeeding journey is no different! But you may be wondering: why does post-weaning depression happen? And how do I deal with it in a healthy way?
What is post-weaning depression?
Post-weaning depression, similar to postpartum depression, is a mental health disorder that can cause overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, frustration, and more AFTER moms end their breastfeeding journey. Unlike postpartum depression, however, post-weaning depression usually goes undiagnosed in many women because:
- Many moms don’t even know it exists
- Signs/symptoms get ignored or wrongfully assumed for PPD
- It happens WAY later (we’re talking months after ending your breastfeeding journey)
So how can you tell if you could be dealing with post-weaning depression? Pay attention to the side effects you experience as (and after) you’re weaning your baby.
What are the side effects to look for?
Emotional side effects of post-weaning depression can include:
- Excessive crying
You may also physically experience things like engorgement, clogged milk ducts, irregular menstrual cycle(s), and mastitis as you begin to feed baby less and teach your body that it doesn’t need to make so much milk anymore. These are all normal for mamas who are weaning but can exacerbate your emotional side effects.
Something to be mindful of when weaning baby is that the more abrupt the transition, the more sudden those hormonal changes can happen. So make sure to pace yourself when you decide to wean your baby from breastfeeding.
How long does it take for hormones to go back to normal after weaning?
Let’s take some time to understand how our hormones fluctuate and work as we breastfeed to the point we stop breastfeeding. When you begin to wean your baby from breastfeeding, prolactin AND oxytocin levels drop.2 Prolactin is the hormone responsible for initiating and maintaining breastmilk production. While oxytocin (the “love” hormone) is the hormone responsible for milk ejection (commonly known as a “let down”).
When these two key hormones drop, it’s not uncommon to experience depression or sadness during this process. The GOOD part is that these symptoms usually only last a couple of weeks at the most. However, they could progress into a more serious form of depression in other circumstances, requiring you to seek help.
In total, it can take a few months before your body’s hormonal level returns to what it was pre-pregnancy. But I promise, there’s light at the end of the tunnel! After all, you spent all this time nourishing your baby with the best possible nutrients available. You should feel proud of yourself for that!
How to cope with post-weaning depression?
If you’ve determined you’re suffering through post-weaning depression, first, accept this virtual hug. I know it is a hard journey to end as your baby finally doesn’t “need” to rely on you for nutrition anymore. Those late-night feedings that turned into snuggles may be nearing an end, but I promise there will be many more ways your growing baby will show you just how much they still need their mama. In the meantime, I’d suggest trying some of these coping strategies to help:
- Hold & snuggle with your baby as much as you can! Remember, snuggles can still trigger oxytocin, aka the “love” hormone, so don’t assume they need to end!
- Take your time. Weaning too fast can cause those hormones to shift abruptly, triggering intense feelings, so take your time with the process!
- Go to therapy. Sometimes, the weaning process is too much to process emotionally, but that’s okay! Seek help through therapy or someone to talk to during this process to help you work through those emotions.
- Journal your feelings. If you’re not sure about therapy yet, try journaling your feelings. Take it day by day, monitoring any triggering events and tracking any patterns in your feelings. (Are they getting worse? Staying the same? Getting better?)
- Let your doctor know. If these feelings are becoming too overwhelming or don’t seem to improve, it’s ideal to notify your doctor immediately. This way, you two can work together to get you in a recovery plan so you can feel like yourself again.
Lastly, don’t forget that the decision to end your breastfeeding journey does not mean you’re a bad mom. It also doesn’t mean all the baby snuggles and closeness you and baby shared are over. You and your baby will share many more sweet memories and close bonding experiences.
When to ask for help if you have post-weaning depression?
Whether you THINK or KNOW you’re dealing with post-weaning depression, it’s important to know your limits so you can get help. One way to stay in tune with your emotions and keep track of them is by journaling! It’s a method my therapist recommended to me when I went through therapy for postpartum anxiety.
I created a postpartum journal to help me monitor my feelings each day and compare them at weekly to monthly intervals. This helped me visually identify that my “bad” days outweighed the “good” ones, a clear indication I needed to seek help.
Other instances you should ask for help would be:
- Intrusive thoughts (thoughts of harming yourself or baby)
- Sadness/crying that will not go away
- Feeling like you aren’t able to bond with baby
- When it’s taking a toll on your relationships (baby, partner, family, friends)
- When you stop enjoying the things & activities you usually enjoy
If you ever have intense feelings, such as feelings of harming yourself, your baby, or anyone else, please reach out to your doctor or contact the PSI crisis text line — it is free and available 24/7; just text “HELLO” to get started.
US and Canada: text 741741 | UK: text 85258 | Ireland: text 086 1800 280
Do you think you could be going through post-weaning depression? If so, please don’t hesitate to get the help and support you need. And don’t forget . . . you’re an AMAZING mom!!!