Depression after Weaning
“I’ve never suffered from depression but since I’ve weaned, I think I might be. Can depression be triggered by weaning?”
Depression CAN occur after weaning a breastfed baby. It is not well understood and is not often discussed.
Mothers tell us:
“The weaning process was very emotional for me. I cried just about every day. It was the kind of “down” that I couldn’t control or talk myself out of. It was overwhelming to know it was the end of something I had treasured so much.”
“I stopped breastfeeding when I found out I was pregnant again. I felt really sad and cried a lot because it was not easy on either of us. I didn’t realize you can continue to breastfeed during pregnancy. I feel really guilty. It kind of consumes me.”
Postpartum depression is known to affect 1 out of every 4 or 5 mothers. It doesn’t always begin immediately after birth but can begin anytime in the first year. (Read more postpartum depression here.)
Is depression after weaning part of the postpartum depression continuum or is it something separate? We aren’t sure. We do know that depressed mothers are at risk for discontinuing breastfeeding.
Why does depression after weaning occur?
From a hormonal perspective, it makes sense. Breastfeeding stimulates the production of hormones such as oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’. In its absence, especially after abrupt weaning, mother’s mood may plummet.
Women wean their babies for a variety of reasons. Depression after weaning may, in part, be influenced by the reason for weaning.
- Mothers may wean due to ongoing pain and trouble establishing breastfeeding. (Breastfeeding difficulties are known to increase the risk of depression.)
- Others may be forced to wean abruptly due to a medical reason.
- Still others may wean after a long and satisfying breastfeeding relationship.
Despite the reason for weaning, women may experience a sense of loss and grief. These feeling are usually short lived and subside within a few weeks. They can be exacerbated, however, if a mother feels she has ‘failed’ at breastfeeding.
If you are currently in the process of weaning, a gentle weaning approach, if possible, may be protective. Slowly eliminate one feeding every few days; allow yourself to be flexible with the timing.
How common is depression after weaning?
Again, we aren’t sure. We do know that women with a history of depression are more at risk for both postpartum depression and post-weaning depression.
Symptoms of depression
Not all women experience depression in the same way. Everyone’s journey is different. Women often describe feeling:
- In a ‘fog’
Women may also report:
- Being easily irritated or annoyed; quick to become angry.
- Difficulty sleeping when they have the chance (or they may find themselves sleeping all the time).
- Crying often.
- Lack of appetite (or consistently overeating).
- A loss of interest in things they used to enjoy.
- Thoughts of harming themself or their baby.
- Difficulty focusing on tasks, remembering information and making decisions.
Knowing that depression can occur after weaning is the first step.
- Find a trusted friend to confide in. Talk about how you are feeling.
- Get some exercise, even if it is only walking around the block.
- Try to get outside, into the sunshine.
- Be kind to yourself; try to do something for yourself every day.
- If these feelings persist, talk to your health care provider.
Weaning is a change in the feeding relationship between you and your baby. Your emotional relationship will continue. It may look and feel differently, but it will continue to remain strong.
Learn more about depression in these posts: 12 Insider Truths About Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and Myths of Motherhood.
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.