Coping with postpartum depression after weaning your child from breastfeeding is a topic that is not discussed enough. I wrote this post in the middle of a very difficult time in my life as a mother in 2015. If you are reading this and feeling the same way I did, please reach out to someone – to me, to your OB, to a friend. Postpartum depression should never be experienced alone.
A few weeks ago something big happened when I said goodbye to my breast pump.
After 16 months of pumping, eight of those months spent pumping three times a day, I decided that it was time to quit breastfeeding. Annabelle no longer drinks a bottle and baby school only gives her an ounce or two of milk with her lunch a day. To be honest, I was also tired of spending every free second I had at school connected to my pump. I would arrive an hour early, just to sit at my desk and pump for 20 minutes. Then during my first 30 minute break, I spent 20 at the pump. And finally, 20 minutes of my planning period I would hide in my classroom, pumping away.
I noticed after Christmas break that my supply started to drop. I went from pumping 3 times a day to taking a two and a half week break of not pumping at all. When I returned to work, I pumped 4 oz total – 8 ounces less than what I’d been pumping on average before my vacation. After a few days my supply increased and I could pump 6-8 ounces in a day. But around February, my supply dropped again and I could only pump out a max of 6 ounces.
Baby school said Annabelle wasn’t finishing the 6-8 ounces of milk I sent each day, so I dropped my morning pumping session. Believe it or not, it was hard at first to get used to the extra time in the morning. I felt both liberated and lost. What does one do with twenty EXTRA minutes a day?! Sadly, my supply dropped even more, and after pumping twice a day at work, I could only total 2-3 ounces.
In March, I felt myself changing.
Physically: my clothes became a little tighter as I was burning less calories a day not pumping and my breasts definitely shrunk a cup size. A few pounds and smaller breasts were the least of my worries since mentally: I felt like I had been shoved on the worst emotional roller coaster fathomable.
Did you know that weaning causes a drop in prolactin and oxytocin levels in a woman’s body, which in turn can cause sadness and depression?
I did not know this for at least a month, so for thirty days I was almost convinced I was going insane. KellyMom says that even though there is very little research, it is hypothesized that hormonal changes are a primary cause of mood changes during weaning. And the faster the weaning, the more abrupt shift in hormones, and the more likely you are to experience a feeling of insanity.
Prolactin, a hormone that is required for milk production, also brings with it a feeling of well-being, calmness and relaxation. Oxytocin, the hormone that is required for milk ejection (let-down), is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.” So, it makes sense that a sudden decrease in these hormones could have an effect on a weaning mother’s emotions. (source)
Once I realized my unexplained feelings of anger, anxiety, moodiness, and sadness stemmed from weaning Annabelle, I’ve been able to try to cope with the surge of emotions. It isn’t easy though – some days are worse than others. Last night I was in a particularly bad mood for no apparent reason. Annabelle spent an hour screaming (thank you Wonder Week 10), but her tantrum wasn’t the reason for my moodiness. It was everything else around me, making me feel like my blood was boiling, or I could cry on cue.
I imagine this is what postpartum depression feels like…
So where do I go from here? I still nurse Annabelle two times a day, which means I am going to have another surge of hormones when I wean her completely. On one hand, I want to drop these feedings so I can get off the emotional roller coaster from hell. On the other hand, I enjoy our close bond from these nursing sessions. I don’t want to say goodbye to our physical oneness or end this chapter of our lives together. But I am crying as I type this for what feels like no reason. What to do… what to do…