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Can Weaning from Breastfeeding Cause Depression?

By Katherine Stone |


Some women may suffer depression after weaning their babies.

Mothers can experience bouts of depression and anxiety for all sorts of reasons either during pregnancy or in the first year after birth. In fact, postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth according to the World Health Organization. But did you know that depression also can occur after weaning your baby from breastfeeding?

Joanna Goddard, who writes the blog A Cup of Jo, recently disclosed her own struggle through a deep depression after she stopped breastfeeding her son Toby at eight months. After what she calls an abrupt weaning, which she accomplished in one week, she started experiencing symptoms of deep sadness, disconnection and exhaustion, and it took her a long time to figure out the two things were related.

Goddard is not alone in her struggle. Just search the pregnancy and new mom community boards and you’ll find lots of moms talking about depression after they stopped breastfeeding. It’s also something I hear about often from readers of my blog Postpartum Progress. I get emails from women who didn’t have postpartum depression, and felt things were going along swimmingly up until they quit breastfeeding and started to experience the symptoms of depression. Others say they had mild PPD from the start, but it became much worse after they stopped lactating. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for them as they try to find answers.

Unfortunately no one yet knows why post-weaning depression occurs. There’s not a whole lot of research on this phenomenon. Look hard enough and you can find one study from 1988 on four women who became depressed after weaning.  That study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, came to the conclusion that the cause was either, “… hormonal readjustments following weaning and feelings of sadness or guilt caused by the loss of the early symbiotic bond between mother and infant.” Furthermore, the La Leche League’s page on how to wean has no mention of the possibility of experiencing depression after weaning, and how to avoid it if possible.

I can only imagine how frustrating it is for women going through this. The only material currently available are studies related to breastfeeding and depression as a roadblock. (I personally stopped breastfeeding because I had severe postpartum anxiety and OCD, and breastfeeding only made me more anxious.) There’s also research on whether breastfeeding can help prevent postpartum depression. Yet, there’s nothing about depression caused by stopping breastfeeding after having done it successfully for a mother’s preferred amount of time.

Still, we know it’s happening. I recently wrote about and linked to Joanne’s story and heard from several other mothers with similar experiences. One can only hope that the more women who’ve been through this speak openly about it, the more likely it is the research community will step up to the plate.

Meantime, I have heard from lactation specialists that weaning slowly and deliberately can help prevent the type of abrupt hormonal change that can lead to depression.  If you are considering weaning and are worried, talk to your doctor about the best approach to take for a smoother transition.

If you do experience depression after cessation of breastfeeding, it’s not your fault and you don’t have to suffer through it. Give your doctor a call and let him or her know what your symptoms are, whether they are mild, moderate or severe, and how long you’ve had them. Depression or anxiety due to any cause is fully treatable, whether via therapy, medication or other alternative methods.


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About Katherine Stone


Katherine Stone

Katherine Stone is the founder of the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression, Postpartum Progress. She writes about parenting and maternal child health on Babble Voices and Babble Cares, as well as at Huffington Post Parents. Katherine is a mom of two and lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter at @postpartumprog. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katherine's latest posts →

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15 thoughts on “Can Weaning from Breastfeeding Cause Depression?

  1. zchamu says:

    You know, it surprises me that people think it *doesn’t* happen. Every woman I know has a couple of tough weeks around weaning, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that others find it even worse. There’s a lot of hormonal changes going on around then. I was a trainwreck for about a week even though I had been barely producing anything at the end.

  2. Teri says:

    I completly agree with this. My 6 month old quit nursing cold turkey one night and then refused every other thing I tried. It was 5 weeks of force syringe feedings and bouts of dehydration and constipation. Following this my PPD began to surface. I completely believe this is how I got it. Between the hormone changes, the stress of him not feeding and everything and my sadness because it wasn’t on my terms like with my other son.

  3. Zoe Q says:

    I strongly feel that we get addicted to the oxytocin and other strong hormones produced when we nurse. I’ve had a lot of problems with nursing, and every time my son loses interest for a while, my mood takes a nose dive. Wish I’d known this in the beginning when he wasn’t nursing well and I thought I was going to lose my mind!!!

  4. Lisa says:

    I think that this is probably a good lesson in weaning. Now I wasn’t rushed, however the more my baby ate food the fuller they were, the fuller they were getting their nutrition from else where the more they didn’t need to nurse. Isn’t that what weaning is suppose to be, about teaching our babies to move onto their next step in life – eating food. I know the way I am saying this sounds like it was easy. My son decided to stop nursing at 6 months(he was already eating food at that point) and my daughter well had to be occupied with other things(rocked to/before sleep and not nursed to sleep). I guess my point is that weaning I would suggest be a gradual thing not a cold turkey experience for either one of you!

  5. Erin Human says:

    I do wonder if it’s the abruptness of sudden weaning that’s the problem. My son weaned gradually at his own pace and when he was done at 16 months, I was actually pretty psyched. It may have been the best I felt, emotionally and in general, in quite a while. I had a great sense of freedom and I felt I bonded with him better after weaning! But I intend to breastfeed my second baby and wean gradually at his pace as well – it’s gentler for both parties.

  6. Meryl says:

    LLL can hardly comment on something no research has been done on… that much seems pretty obvious to me.

  7. Heather says:

    I worry about this type of thing for myself. I’ve struggled with depression for many years pre-baby, and was on medication for it when I got pregnant. I stopped all meds during pregnancy, and plan to stay off as long as possible since I’m breastfeeding (the meds I was taking aren’t breastfeeding-compatible). I’ve been doing incredibly well emotionally, but I worry that when I wean my now 8 month old daughter, I’ll be hit harder than I was before. I wish there was more research on this type of thing.

  8. Bridget says:

    I had this happen to me. It started a couple months ago when I stopped breastfeeding my son when he was a little over a year. He had a cold and was vomiting. My rule is if you vomit you get no milk. Cow or breast alike. He had the cold for 2 days so it seemed silly to me when I had to have him weaned in a moths time for a surgery I was having. Anyways……I started getting very frustrated easily at my boys and found myself yelling at them. (very out of character for me) I went to my doctor and asked if depression could come about in the way of anger instead of sadness. I had never heard of it before but as it turns out depression CAN come in the means of anger as well. Her and I are working on fixing the problem now. So if your behavior changes I would suggest you talk to your doctor.

  9. Theresa says:

    I feel sad just thinking about possibly weaning. My daughter is 15 months and I know nursing brings her comfort and I never want to force her to quit. I don’t care how inconvenient it becomes for me. I want her to wean on her own, I don’t want to do it for her and I won’t. I think if I forced it I would probably experience some form of depression. It’s a special bond that we have and I’d feel like I broke it if I forced her.

  10. Pam says:

    I think successful bfing is what kept me from having ppd after having my second child. With my first, I was only able to nurse for about 2 months and had a lot of ppd, some was caused by the guilt of not being able to nurse longer, but I think it would have been there even had I not had that guilt. I am going on 15 months of nursing my daughter, 3 months over my desired goal, but I still have fears of weaning. I keep hoping she’ll slowly self wean bc we are trying to concieve again and I think I am still not consistantly ovulating. Even so, I have not been able to completely wean her. We’re both happy with the arrangement so for now, if it takes a little longer to get pregnant this time, so be it.

  11. dezi's mom says:

    I had a lot of feelings of frustration, anxiety and depression when it came to the troubles I was having with breastfeeding. My son and I had latching problems and I really wanted to breastfeed but I didn’t know if he was getting anything when he was feeding and I tried keeping up with breast pumping but it was hard when I went back to work. I was very upset with myself and felt like a failure as a mom when we started using formula, but since then I have come to terms with it.

  12. Karen says:

    I think it is yet another huge hormonal shift is the baby-having process. If you wean abruptly, the shift happens suddenly. If you wean gradually, the shift happens that way too. Both of mine happenly somwhat gradually but there was still a change after the weaning that took a few weeks to get thru.

  13. Katy says:

    Kudos to this article for bringing awareness!! Depression after weaning IS common (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it has alot to do with new moms who do not nurse getting PPD). My son weaned at 9 months, and I thought I was going crazy. I became horribly depressed for what seemed like no reason. I realized it was related to weaning and was basically late-onset PPD, but I wish someone would have warned me ahead of time that this could happen!

  14. Jodi Rives says:

    When my son was almost two, I was in a major car accident and he, still nursing numerous times a day, quit cold turkey that night. My lactation consultant said it was not unusual–the mother’s body releases adrenaline in response to trauma and the child doesn’t like the taste (the body’s way of conserving energy to help the mother repair–amazing, but tragic for me). I had no chance to wean incrementally, or know it was my last time nursing, or prepare for the loss–just an awful series of events that left me utterly blindsided. It took me a full year before I could be in the same room with a nursing mom without fleeing in tears. It was devastating. That was 16 years ago, and I have not forgotten the fog of despair I felt for a long time afterward. The experience is very real and should be taken seriously. I am fortunate in that I (unexpectedly) got another chance to nurse a baby and felt healed by the opportunity. If you feel these things, know that they are real and you are not alone.

  15. L Patino says:

    So true. Article well written. Thank you for the comments and posts. Struggling with this now. Trying to wean 19 month old and it’s affecting both of our moods. Just taking one day at a time and depending on God. Trying to let him self wean. Taking longer than I thought. It affects more than I thought for us both. Hang in there, Momma’s and babies… Come on researchers! Awareness is so important. Keep spreading the word so other mothers out there don’t feel so alone. God bless.

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