Sometime after my daughter turned 13 months old, I realized it was time to end our breastfeeding journey.
Although I was incredibly grateful to have successfully breastfed all four of my kids, breastfeeding has never been something that has come easily to me. I got mastitis a lot, I only produced milk from one side, and my babies refused bottles of any kind. We had made it to my goal of a year, and although I wasn’t opposed to any sort of “extended” breastfeeding, my supply was dwindling to the point that nursing my daughter was becoming something that I dreaded.
So I weaned her, and after one particularly hellish night that may or may not have involved me hiding under my pillows crying while my husband yelled, “We can NOT have any more babies, do you hear me??” she adjusted quite happily and took a bottle of cow’s milk as her new nighttime routine.
Cautiously, I tested out my feelings on being done, potentially forever, with breastfeeding. Was I devastated to lose that bond with her? Was I sad to lose out on that snuggle time every night? Was I scared of how I would comfort her in the middle of the night?
Nope. I was feeling pretty freaking great to be done.
Until a few days later when I suddenly seemed to plunge down a black hole.
I starting cramping even though my period was nowhere near starting. I couldn’t stop binging on chocolate. I cried about everything. And my kids, oh my poor kids. I vacillated between wanting to sleep on the rug and these huge waves of rage over every little thing that they did. I felt like the world’s worst mother. Everything they did annoyed me, and I couldn’t muster up any energy to do anything remotely fun with them. I was only about mid-cycle, but felt like I had the worst, most exaggerated PMS in the entire world.
A week went by and my feelings only seemed to intensify, but my rage seemed to be replaced by despair. I had a breakdown in front of my husband one night, sobbing for hours that I couldn’t do it anymore, I just couldn’t do it. He didn’t speak to me for five days afterwards; I scared him so much.
For almost two weeks, I sincerely wondered if I was losing my mind. I cried every single day, even wearing sunglasses to pick up my daughters from school to hide the tears I couldn’t to stop from rolling down my cheeks, for seemingly no reason at all. I wrote super depressing blog posts, picked fights with my husband, and started to wonder at what point would I need to seek professional help.
I knew what it was like to go down the dark path of depression, because I had postpartum depression after my first daughter that I never recognized or sought treatment for. And this time, I knew that I had to recognize what was happening before it was too late. But I was so very afraid.
The day before my period was due, I decided to take a pregnancy test, hoping that somehow hormones were to blame for me seemingly losing my mind. The test was negative, but as it turns out, hormones may have actually been to blame.
But instead of pregnancy hormones, my feelings stemmed from a sudden decline in hormones from weaning.
I had no idea that weaning depression can be a thing, but apparently it is. Even the American Psychiatric Association has studied the link between weaning and depression and that other women have chronicled their own experiences with weaning depression. When I shared my feelings with a friend, she admitted that she had always experienced “breastfeeding blues” after weaning her kids.
Even though I had breastfed three other kids, I had never even heard of the “breastfeeding blues,” let alone experienced them. But suddenly, the concept seemed to explain exactly what I was going through.
Depression from weaning does make sense when you think about it. Breastfeeding causes elevated levels of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin in our bodies, so when these hormones are suddenly decreased, it can lead to feelings of sadness and depression. There’s a lot going on in there after weaning, hormone-wise, and it seems like, especially in women who have had postpartum depression or may be especially sensitive to hormone fluctuations, it’s a physiological reaction as your hormones regulate again.
In my case, my “breastfeeding blues” lasted about two weeks. And I kid you not, the day my period started up again I was like a completely different woman. The feelings disappeared almost instantly.
I don’t know the exact science behind the “breastfeeding blues,” and I certainly don’t want to add length to any of those articles that blames every slight mood fluctuation on women’s hormones, but I do think that it’s worth sharing this concept with other women. If weaning leads women to feel some symptoms of depression, they need to know that they are not alone. I had no idea what was happening to me, and I was terrified. I thought for sure I was on the brink of a breakdown. I was so scared of hurting myself, my children, and my marriage with some seriously negative thoughts and actions.
So if someone would have told me that my feelings were completely normal and linked to the very real shifts of breastfeeding hormones happening in my body, maybe, just maybe, it would have helped to think of the situation differently. It wasn’t me losing my mind or me slipping into a deep depression again that I would need help overcoming.
It was just the breastfeeding blues.