The Side Effects of Ending Breastfeeding — What No One Told me

Post-weaning depression and anxiety are another thing to add to the list of disorders affecting new mothers.

Breastfeeding weaning
Instagram @Biancamaycheah

You’ve heard of PND or Postnatal Depression, the disorder affecting many new moms. The condition typically develops between one month and up to one year after the birth of a child. The psychological adjustment required in transitioning to motherhood means any mother can be susceptible. This is raised tenfold particularly if they’ve struggled previously with anxiety or depression. It’s easy for some of the symptoms of postnatal depression for a normal transition to motherhood, but after much research, we now know there is much more to it. But there is also a disorder affecting many new moms called post-weaning depression and anxiety. This is the same type of sadness that falls over you during breastfeeding but happens when there is detachment from the new baby.

breastfeeding and depression
Image: Dave Clubb via Unsplash

What Is Weaning Depression and Anxiety?

According to Kelly Mom, it’s not unusual to feel tearful, sad, or mildly depressed after weaning; some mothers also experience irritability, anxiety, or mood swings and night sweats. These feelings are usually short-term and should go away in a few weeks. But, some mothers experience more severe symptoms that require treatment. If you’re experiencing feelings that are affecting your quality of life for more than a couple of weeks, it would be a good idea to seek outside help.

What Can Cause These Mood Changes?

Unfortunately, very little is known about weaning depression and anxiety. Many think it is because of hormones and a drop in prolactin and oxytocin levels. Prolactin, a hormone that is required for milk production, also brings with it a feeling of well-being, calmness, and relaxation. Oxytocin, the hormone that is required for milk ejection is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” It makes sense that a sudden decrease in these hormones could have an effect on a weaning mother’s emotions.
According to Kelly Mom, the faster the weaning process the more abrupt the shift in hormone levels, and the more likely that you will experience adverse effects. Dropping no more than one feeding per week is gentler on both mother and baby. Mothers who are forced to wean before they are ready and mothers with a history of depression are also more likely to experience this. Even for mothers who feel ready for weaning and wean gradually, there may still be some sense of loss and sadness. Weaning marks the end of a physical oneness with your child, the close of a very special period in your lives. Remember that your child’s strong need for your presence continues, even if it is now expressed in other ways.

pregnancy and covid-19
Image: Jonathan Borba via Unsplash

How Do I Seek Help?

According to Her View From Home, there’s a lot you can do to either prepare for this depression if you think you might be prone to it, or if you’re experiencing it currently. Here are her recommendations. She reached out to Jani Combrink, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), nurse, midwife, mother of three, and all-round rock star.

If you’re still breastfeeding your child

Jani believes that, like with many things, knowledge is power. If you are currently breastfeeding, simply being aware that weaning depression and/or anxiety may occur. This allows you to be prepared. This will help you cope in the event you do experience some emotional turmoil when the time comes.

When weaning your child is on the horizon

If you are planning to wean your child in the near future, Jani recommends weaning gradually, if at all possible. She says it eases baby into a new way of feeding. Also, it gives your body time to adjust more gently to new levels and a new state of being. You can avoid the obvious pitfalls of weaning while taking time to gently grieve the end of your breastfeeding relationship.

If you are in or have completed, the process of weaning your child

Take care of yourself. Be mindful of your needs. Eat regular, balanced meals, and take time to move and get in some exercise and fresh air. This is important for helping your body cope with the shift in hormones. Jani explains that these simple acts of self-care will “all help elevate serotonin levels to help you feel good.” She also emphasizes the importance of cuddles! Jani reminds us that “this helps raise oxytocin levels, which in turn helps lift your mood. You can cuddle everyone in your family—it will make everyone feel happy!”
This is also one of those countless times when you will really appreciate the value of your friendship. Jani agrees that reaching out to others “can help you guide you through the swamp of emotions and guilt, all the while supporting and applauding your efforts.” For me, it was the text message to my best friend, which prompted her to send me an article about weaning depression, and that turned out to be precisely the lifeline I needed

While you’re here, check out this Amodrn article on our founder Bianca May Cheah’s birth story.

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