I stopped breastfeeding when my son was 13 months old. He had started to self-wean some weeks before that and my milk supply was very low at the end. Therefore, I decided that it was time to end this chapter. And it actually was easy. I was very much looking forward to enjoying more freedom and having my body back entirely to myself.
But there was one scenario I did not see coming. In fact, I didn’t even know this could happen, and that meant I was totally unprepared when it hit me. After weaning my baby I was in a miserable mood for weeks. And at first, I didn’t understand why this happened, until I learnt that there was a link between weaning and depression.
But let’s start at the beginning of it all – my rollercoaster breastfeeding journey
My plan was to breastfeed my baby for a minimum of 6 months if not longer. And I was determined to do so and was reading much into this topic during pregnancy and attending the hospital breastfeeding preparation class. But when my son was born, it was a lot harder than I expected, nothing was easy and especially the first couple of weeks were the toughest. My son had troubles latching on properly and after a couple of days, only the use of a nipple shield kept us going and it took 3 months to be able to feed him without it.
Finally, after 3 months, breastfeeding became easy. We could have been the duo on one of those pictures for breastfeeding promotions which shows a happy breastfeeding mother with her satisfied baby. I finally started to enjoy this and there was no more stress nor pain (my nipples finally got used to the constant suction).
I have to admit that I had my troubles with loving my son in the first weeks of his life but breastfeeding allowed me to grow the bond with my son.
Read also: Not Loving My Newborn. When Bonding Takes Time
A month later things changed again as I was told that my baby wasn’t gaining enough weight and he needed more milk. This totally shocked me as I thought he was satisfied with my milk. So, to increase my milk supply I started pumping after each nursing session. So instead of exclusively breastfeeding, I started to give him a full bottle of formula or breastmilk before bedtime.
Sadly, my milk supply was slowly vanishing, by 11 months my baby was increasingly unsatisfied after the breastfeeding sessions despite all those efforts.
It Felt Right to STOP Breastfeeding!
We both had enough by 13 months and so did I, slowly ending this journey by dropping one feed after another (first the day feeds and lastly the morning feeds).
I wanted the best for my baby. I was not producing enough milk for him, even when pumping, so I had to switch to formula going forward. And hey, I breastfed for over a year, which was more than my original 6-months-goal.
“Yes!” I said to myself. “I do no longer need to worry about my son not getting enough milk as I can now monitor exactly how much he drinks when I start giving him a bottle. And I will finally be free again. I will have my body back solemnly for myself. And I will get some more sleep because from now on my husband can also get up at night.” Everything will be great.
Then, Around a Week after Weaning, I Suddenly Felt the Opposite of Great.
It was a weekend morning and I was sitting on my bed after my baby just went down for his morning nap. Usually, a great feeling, as this gives me time for myself, but then I started to cry.
I just felt sad and moody and very irritable, especially towards my husband. And I was all of a sudden feeling guilty of stopping breastfeeding. My mind was playing tricks with me. I felt like I betrayed my son by taking away breastfeeding from him. I felt like I lost my connection to my son again. Although in the back of my mind I knew this was not true.
Getting out of bed every morning was a mammoth effort. And I only did because I had to take care of my son and go to work. This went on for a good two weeks.
Then one day I realised that those symptoms felt familiar to me. I went through this before, because I struggled with Postnatal Depression after my baby’s birth. Still, I didn’t understand why I felt like this again. What had changed? Why am I going backwards, when I made such great progress in getting over my postnatal depression?
Read also: Dear Mum with Postnatal Depression. You Are Not Alone.
And then I realised that the only change in my life was ending breastfeeding. I haven’t heard of post-weaning depression before but considering the timing, it could not just be a coincidence. So I went online to find some explanation and found again articles about postnatal depression but only little about depression after weaning. It was hard to find any actual research on this topic but there were some articles from other mothers talking about having the same experience.
WEANING CHANGES YOUR HORMONAL HOUSEHOLD
Again. The “happy” hormone oxytocin which is getting produced while breastfeeding is now missing. And your body has to adjust once more to a change in hormone level and needs to live without those extra oxytocin spikes you had while breastfeeding.
But then it is not only a physical adjustment but also a mental one.
My research showed that negative feelings after weaning are indeed not uncommon and after weaning “blues” can be common. But in my case, it was more than just being sad that I have stopped breastfeeding. It was so irrational that I have changed again to a person I did not like. Someone grumpy and very easily irritated, similar to how I was feeling when I was suffering from postnatal depression.
Being diagnosed with postnatal depression and acknowledging it meant that I could now recognise the symptoms, which led me with the link to post-weaning-depression. I was able to figure out what was actually happening a lot quicker this time around.
Isn’t it a relief to know that you are not the only one feeling like this? I can only speak for myself, but I am glad that I finally learnt the reason behind my sudden mood change. And now I can work on it and I know it will get better again, same as it did with my postnatal depression.
“Please note, I am only writing about my own experience and I cannot give any professional advice.”
Stopping feeling guilty about weaning and gaining trust in my decision!
My depression did not let me think clearly, but there were moments where I was able to just get back to reality and assure myself that I did make the right decision to wean. I do not need to feel guilty, because my son is a happy toddler. I know that I can comfort him in different ways. And I know that he gets his nutritional needs from formula and solids.
Do things which usually make me happy!
I see this as a kind of a substitute to the missing oxytocin dose. I will continue doing yoga and will book a massage.
Ready also: Why Yoga is Helping me Overcome Postnatal Depression.
Talk about it!
This is not easy, but I need to first of all talk to my husband about this because only then he can understand and assist me in getting better and not just think that I am grumpy.
To support me with this, I made an appointment with my psychologist, so that I can address this with a professional.
I hope this article can bring awareness to others that post-weaning depression does exist. And while it can be a very tough time, it can also get better with time. While I am writing this article, I am one month after my last nursing session and while I know I am already on the way to recovery, I am aware that I need to take the next step and talk to my doctor about this.
So much from me.
I would love to hear from you. Did you experience any kind of sadness or depression after weaning? Or did stopping breastfeeding do the opposite and made you a happier person?