In the last decade, there’s been a great deal of attention on postnatal depression (also known as postpartum depression), and quite rightly so.
There’s also been a lot more focus on supporting women as they cope with pre-menstrual syndrome, early pregnancy mood symptoms, emotional storms in labor, the baby blues, postnatal depression, and lack of sex drive due to breastfeeding.
There’s one challenge many women experience that isn’t talked about.
Research shows post weaning depression is having a serious impact on women’s mental health.
Let’s look further into post weaning depression, and what to do if you experience it.
What is post weaning depression?
While you’re breastfeeding, your brain is releasing the love hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel really good.
If you’ve developed a good breastfeeding bond with your baby, you probably look forward to this time and enjoy the minutes you spend together.
You get used to feeling so good and bonding with your baby, especially if you’ve been doing this for quite a while. So weaning or stopping breastfeeding can cause a major upheaval in your body.
Post weaning depression is when a mother falls into emotional turmoil after she has stopped breastfeeding, and struggles to get through her days without negative thoughts.
What causes weaning?
Weaning can occur for many reasons, whether it’s initiated by baby or mother, or it’s mutual.
If your baby shows signs of breast refusal before one year, it might not be weaning and could be temporary.
Seek help from a lactation consultant if you want to continue to feed until one year or beyond, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Babies can refuse the breast when they’re unwell; you should see your doctor if you continue to be concerned.
Sometimes mothers might start the weaning process, for various reasons.
Some possible reasons:
- Trying to become pregnant if ovulation hasn’t returned
- Taking a medication that makes breastfeeding unsafe. (It’s a good idea to contact the medicine helpline in your area, as many medications are actually safe when breastfeeding)
- Another pregnancy has occurred (although many mothers breastfeed safely when pregnant)
- The mother feels ‘touched out’ or she has had enough – breastfeeding can be overwhelming at times
- Pressure or shaming from family members
- Returning to work.
It’s absolutely within a mother’s rights to continue breastfeeding at anytime and anywhere she chooses; she should never be pressured into weaning for any reasons other than her own.
Instead, she needs to be supported in whatever she decides.
In cases where she wishes to continue, despite some of the reasons mentioned above, finding the right help, such as counseling, can support her to continue her breastfeeding journey.
For gentle weaning advice read our great articles Weaning From Breastfeeding- A Gentle Approach and Weaning A Toddler:10 Tips To Gently Wean Your Toddler.
Post weaning depression symptoms
Like postnatal depression, post weaning depression can cause difficulty in a woman’s life.
The most common symptoms of post weaning depression in women are:
- Struggling to get on with everyday activities
- Constant feelings of sadness, due to thoughts of not breastfeeding anymore
- Mood changes
- Panic attack.
Post weaning depression can occur days or weeks after breastfeeding finishes. In most women it will resolve when the mother’s hormonal fluctuations balance themselves out again.
The symptoms of post weaning depression are usually less severe than those of postnatal depression, and require less serious intervention.
It’s still very important a mother’s feelings are recognized and validated, so she feels supported and able to overcome her depression.
Does stopping breastfeeding make you emotional?
Weaning can trigger emotional ups and downs. The difference between milk production and enjoying the hormonal blessings of feeding, and not doing it anymore can seem like the difference between night and day.
When a baby chooses to wean and a mother isn’t ready, it’s understandable she might feel extremely emotional.
On the other hand, when a mother is struggling to breastfeed and decides to stop, she can feel extreme guilt and regret.
As well as struggling with the feelings you experience when weaning your child, there are also hormonal changes that occur.
These changes can really play with your emotions and leave you with post weaning depression symptoms.
If your loved ones notice behavioral changes and suggest you seek help, talk to a mental health professional or counselor. It will do more good than harm – even if you haven’t been diagnosed with depression.
How long after weaning do hormones return to normal?
Oxytocin and prolactin are the hormones most in play when breastfeeding. When women stop feeding, there’s a shift in these hormones and the levels start to decrease.
With the rise in estrogen levels, you might find your period returns. This can also leave you with premenstrual symptoms (PMS).
Usually, the effects of these hormone changes occur over a few weeks before symptoms gradually improve.
If for any reason you’re concerned and the symptoms of post weaning depression continue, talk to your doctor or health care provider.
A quick note about drying up breastmilk
If you are drying up breastmilk, there are some things you can try to help you through the process naturally and comfortably.
Some mothers find sage (e.g. in the form of a tea) helps to dry up their breastmilk.
It’s important to remember herbs can act like medications, so speak with a healthcare provider before taking any herbs.
Here’s a review about Pink Stork No Flow, which is Amazon’s Top Choice for sage tea:
“I used this tea to help reduce my breastmilk supply for weaning my 3-year-old. He struggled with constant ear infections and was unable to wean earlier. Thankfully he is finally well but he was really struggling to let nursing go. I decided to try this tea to reduce my milk supply and maybe help him begin the process of weaning. This tea helped tremendously!”
For more information read What Happens When You Stop Breastfeeding? 5 Things To Know.
7 Tips for coping with post weaning depression and mood swings
If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of post weaning depression, you might like to try these 7 tips to help you cope.
#1: Get regular exercise
This seems obvious, and we should exercise for our health anyway.
What you mightn’t know is exercise releases chemicals, such as endorphins, which give you a natural high – especially if you do something that causes you to break out in a sweat.
Yoga, pilates, or a good brisk walk outside works wonders.
Outdoor exercise, where possible, is particularly helpful because fresh air contains more oxygen, which improves the health of your brain and body.
Remember the tightness you get in your chest when you’re stressed? It’s from breathing too fast and not filling your lungs to capacity.
When you are feeling the pressure, just take a few minutes to slow down your breathing.
Drop your shoulders, close your eyes and breathe really slowly and deeply, until you feel the stress drop away.
This can also head off an anxiety attack before it gets started.
#3: Regulate your sleep and wake times
Whenever possible, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, ideally with the sun.
Cultivate the habit of turning off electronics around your house two hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted by many devices disrupts the natural production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep.
Dim the lights around the house, mimicking the setting sun. It’ll help get your children ready for bed as well.
As soon as you wake up, go out into the sunlight, with as much exposed skin as possible. Take your shoes off and get grounded on the grass, dirt, or wherever you can.
The sun is so important: it means life – for everything.
Also, vitamin D from sunlight helps to boost your mood, energy, and immune system.
#4: Watch what you’re consuming
Don’t compensate for tiredness by overconsumption of caffeinated beverages and sugary and starchy foods.
These things, taken in excess, break down your health, which will delay the regulation of your hormone levels.
Instead, make sure you include enough proteins and good fats in your diet.
Even if you need to lose weight, these good fats aren’t your enemy; they’re your friend. Your brain consists of 60% fat, and that fat makes all of the cell membranes in your body.
Regulating hormones also requires fats in your diet.
These are the best sources of fats and oil to choose, as they require the least processing:
- Virgin coconut oil
- Saturated fat from meat
- Olive oil
- Nut oils, and nuts
- Avocado oil, and avocados
- Sesame oil
- Cod liver oil
- Oily, cold-water fish
- Flaxseed oil.
With enough quality protein and fat in your diet, you won’t feel the need for too much caffeine – unless you already have a caffeine habit.
If you do, then it’s a good idea to wind back slowly, to prevent caffeine withdrawal headaches.
#5: Have fun!
Spend some time having fun. Do fun stuff with your family and have regular date nights with your partner.
Cultivate your relationships and have a girls’ weekend getaway at a spa or the beach. Talk therapy is really beneficial and can help you feel you’re being heard.
Cultivate hobbies that are just for fun and not to earn money from (although that’s a good side benefit).
Dance, sing, and do things that bring your mood up naturally. Give yourself something to look forward to.
Spending time in the sun and in nature will help with this too.
#6: Encourage the production of love hormones
Stimulate the hormone oxytocin in your body by hugging, kissing and cuddling on a regular basis. Orgasms are great for that, too.
Even spending time with your best woman friends and family can also help boost oxytocin.
Read our article 5 ways you can boost your oxytocin levels for more good ideas.
#7: Meditate and use positive affirmations
Getting in touch with your inner self can help you figure out what’s really important to you. Learn about yourself and learn to love yourself for who you are.
A positive outlook can help produce positive feelings in your body. The power of thought is much stronger than you might realize.
Louise Hay’s Power Thought Cards give you a really good set of affirmations that you can use to bring yourself out of the doldrums. Or why not write some yourself? Whatever works!
Hang in there, mama. This too will pass.
Fill your days with sun, fun, love and connection, to refill your cup.
You’ve got this!