Weaning Depression

I sat down to breastfeed my baby girl for what I thought would be the last time. She was close to one year old and was only breastfeeding a few times a day, mostly before naptime and bedtime. Because I nursed her to sleep, and she HATED sleeping, when I would try to unlatch her to put her in her crib, she would bite me, hard. She even drew blood a couple times. I had tried all the things, toys, teething necklaces, unlatching her immediately after she stopped actively eating, but somehow she would still bite me. It was not sustainable. I knew it. She knew it. It was time to be done. But this wasn’t how I expected our breastfeeding journey to end! I felt sad but understood that it was time to wean. 

My pediatrician recommended that I cut down breastfeeding sessions one by one instead of all at once to avoid engorgement and discomfort. (This is the recommended way to wean. Always consult your doctor or a lactation consultant for the best recommendations for your weaning situation.) Everytime I tried to cut a feeding I would feel really emotional. I tried for a week or so but found myself giving in and nursing (and getting bitten) because it was easier than hearing my baby cry. So, one day I just decided, today is the day that I will stop cold turkey. 

Besides the engorgement and physical discomfort I had those first few days after I stopped breastfeeding, I found myself feeling extra irritable, anxious, and just extremely overwhelmed. Even after the physical symptoms passed, I found my mental and emotional health was still struggling. I wish I knew then what I know now, that weaning, with its hormonal changes, can cause depression. 

Emma Tolman, Writer for New Little Life

Weaning can happen for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you have to wean because of a medication you are taking that is not safe for breastfeeding. Maybe you are choosing to wean because of your mental health. Or maybe your baby just hasn’t breastfed for a while and you’re both ready to be done breastfeeding. Whatever the reason, weaning might be emotional.

Typically, weaning is more emotional for those who wean abruptly or sooner than they expected. Though there is not a lot of research on this topic, weaning depression is most likely caused by hormone levels dropping.

This is not a blog post about how to wean. If you’d like to learn more about weaning, check out this blog post here. (It talks about night weaning, but the same general principles apply to full weaning.) Instead, this blog post is a resource for those going through weaning depression with some suggestions on how to get through it. 

There are two important hormones in breastfeeding, prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin contributes to milk production and oxytocin causes letdowns/milk ejection. While breastfeeding, these hormones help you feel connected to your baby so it makes sense that when these hormonal levels drop during weaning, it could affect you emotionally! 

First, and foremost, understand that mood swings and irritability are common symptoms of weaning, you’re not alone! But if you are feeling more intense depression, you should reach out to your care provider or other professional. Depressive feelings associated with weaning can last several weeks, but it never hurts to connect with your health team. 

So what does weaning depression feel like?

You might feel:

  • You can’t stop breastfeeding even if you want to
  • Irritated at yourself for not meeting your breastfeeding goals
  • Sad that you won’t connect with your baby in the same way anymore
  • Anxious about your baby’s health and what they will do without breastmilk

How can you manage these feelings?

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or depressed, it’s a good idea to redirect those feelings. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, and then find other ways to occupy your mind. Here are some ideas that can help you cope through this emotional time of weaning depression. (Keep in mind, these suggestions are not a replacement for medical advice.)

Have a Photoshoot

It might feel a little silly to take a photo of yourself feeding your baby, but these photos will be something to look back on forever! Photos can help you remember the bond that you shared with your little one for however long you chose to breastfeed. Take a simple photo of you and your baby at home, or have a whole glam photoshoot! Either way, these photos can help you remember that special time you had with your baby while breastfeeding. 

New Little Life has a whole blog post on breastfeeding photoshoots, here! Pinterest, of course, is full of ideas, too! 

Make Breastmilk Jewelry

Breastmilk jewelry preserves your breastmilk into resin pendants that you can turn into necklaces, bracelets, pins, really anything you can think of! It’s a bit of a process, you have to cook your breastmilk and make it into a powder which then mixes into the resin. The end result is really cool and a great momento! 

This video from New Little Life walks you through the whole process!

Find a Relaxing Activity 

Coloring can be a soothing way to relax the mind. The New Little Life breastfeeding coloring book has lots of different coloring pages to help you reflect on your breastfeeding journey. You could even put a finished coloring page in your baby book, or frame it and hang it up in the baby’s room. 

Journal

Even if you’re not an avid journaler, research shows that journaling can positively affect your emotional wellbeing. There are lots of ways to journal! Some journals have prompts to help get the ideas rolling. You could start a gratitude journal and record the little things that helped your day. Traditional journaling is great, too. Or you could even just fill out your baby book. Writing can help you process your feelings and clear your head.

Reach Out 

Spending time with those you love can boost your oxytocin levels. Remember, your loved ones want what’s best for you. They know you better than anyone and can lift you up when you’re feeling down.

Now would be a good time to lean on your partner. Let them know how you’re feeling. Ask for help in whatever tasks feel overwhelming. Look for ways to connect and just have fun together. Your partner may not be able to completely understand how you’re feeling but they love you and want to help support you.

Lean on your friends. Talking to other moms can be especially helpful because they relate to the ups and downs of motherhood and may have felt the same way you do at some point. 

If you don’t have any mom friends, reach out to your own mom, or other family member, and share what you’re going through. Your loved ones care about you and want to help!

Moving Forward

Weaning, with its hormonal changes, can cause depression. Though it hasn’t been studied extensively, more women are sharing their experiences about weaning depression and bringing it to light. Hormonal levels typically stabilize in a few weeks. In the meantime, there are ways to help cope with these depressive feelings. The most important thing to remember is, you’re not alone! You will get through this. You’re loved, and you are just the right mom for your baby.

Weaning Depression