Many breastfeeding mothers find the process of weaning to be emotional. Breastfeeding is a sacred act of bonding and it can be difficult to give up on those quiet moments shared together. Besides the emotional aspect, when breastfeeding becomes less frequent or stops completely you can experience a significant hormonal shift as well.
Delayed postpartum depression, also referred to as post-weaning depression, can surface in varying degrees as a direct result of weaning. It’s more than the general wistful feeling of your baby “growing up entirely too fast”. In some women it can make the everyday tasks of life and motherhood feel completely overwhelming and exhausting.
I first started noticing hormonal shifts in my body when my son began sleeping through the night. I was no longer breastfeeding around the clock and began producing less milk to accommodate for supply and demand. It’s been a very gradual, child-led process for us. Shouldn't I be feeling full of energy now that I'm finally sleeping again? Instead I felt a little out of sorts. I’m generally a very even keeled person and had a very emotionally balanced pregnancy, but when my husband referred to me as despondent one day, I knew something was going on. For me it was similar to feeling premenstrual, but the hormonal shift can be very intense for some women with symptoms including:
- anxiety- including nervousness, racing heart, racing mind,
- weepiness- sometimes crying multiple times a day,
- mood swings,
- lessened motivation,
- disruptions in sleep,
- skin breakouts,
- headaches or migraines and more.
Women are often prepared for the emotional highs and lows that come with pregnancy, but the post-weaning baby blues is rarely discussed in women’s health.
What’s going on?
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that’s released when we breastfeed and promotes a sense of deep relaxation. It’s the same feel good hormone released in our brains when we fall in love, get kissed, cuddled or hugged. So it makes sense that a breastfeeding mother who receives regular doses of feel good, relaxing chemicals would feel differently once that slows or stops. She’s coming off a drug… the love drug.
Foods To Promote Balance
It could take up to a month for the body to balance into a hormonal rhythm that is closer to normal again, but there are way to nutritionally support the shift that happens when your nursling begins to breastfeed less frequently or wean.
Sugar & Caffeine: Both weak havoc on your endocrine system (hormones) and will leads to reduced levels of sex hormones.
Soy: Contains phytoestrogen, a plant-derived compound that mimics your own estrogen, interferes with your estrogen receptors, and disrupts your body's hormones .
Omega 3 (esp EPA) & B12: Both nutrients are important for mood, specifically depression & anxiety, and can become depleted when breastfeeding.
I always suggest seeking food sources first, but if supplementing:
- Omega 3: ensure it includes EPA as well as DHA
- B12: use methylcobalamin not cyanocobalamin
Maca: This Peruvian root balances hormones, boosts libido, improves mental function, and increases energy. An adaptogen that can benefit each person uniquely by promoting homeostasis (balance in the body).
Sleep: Getting as much quality sleep as possible helps to reset and rebalance your systems. (Good luck with this one mamas!)
Stay Active: Keep your body moving to boost your mood and try to spend time in nature each day to reduce stress hormones.