Feeling sad, even depressed, during or after weaning? You’re probably not alone.
Hormonal changes at weaning, coupled with the loss of the breastfeeding relationship, theoretically may heighten the risk of feelings of sadness, even leading to depression in some women.
While there is no research examining exactly this question, it is “certainly plausible that losing [these hormones] is going to make people feel physically bad, independent of any cognitive sadness they’re experiencing,” says Dr. Alison Stuebe, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina.
Two key hormones of breastfeeding, prolactin and oxytocin, both affect mood. Prolactin is a calming hormone, and oxytocin both calms and instills a feeling of closeness (hence its nickname “the love hormone”). Theoretically, reductions in the levels of these hormones, especially when weaning is abrupt, may contribute to mood changes in some women.
One hypothesis, explained in this article, suggests that shared hormonal mechanisms may contribute to both breastfeeding problems and mood disorders. And some women, even those for whom breastfeeding has gone well and is ending in a satisfactory way, feel sadness at the loss of this relationship.
What can you do? If possible, wean gradually to avoid a “crash” in your hormone levels. If this isn’t possible or doesn’t work (even mothers who wean gradually may experience these feelings), check out this page of comfort measures for moms during weaning. If possible, consider doing some skin-to-skin or extra snuggling time with your child - this kind of closeness can raise your prolactin and oxytocin levels even if you aren’t nursing.
And if you are concerned that your mood may be depressive or otherwise troubling, be sure to seek help from a health care provider.