I just assumed that weaning would be great. I mean, the thought of my boobs being my own again sounded awesome. I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy, as my daughter didn’t take a bottle or a pacifier (I WAS her bottle and pacifier!) but I was naïve in just what weaning would entail. I tried a gradual approach, and over the course of a few weeks, my daughter was only nursing 1-2 times during the day, but night feedings still continued all night long. During this process a few things happened:
First, I experienced the expected emotional struggle that goes along with breaking that special, beautiful bond with my baby girl. As much as I longed for a decent night’s sleep or to not be tugged at/pulled on during the day, I grieved the loss of all the quiet, precious moments feeding my daughter.
Second, I compared my weaning journey with other moms I knew, and began feeling pressure that I wasn’t doing it right or quickly enough. I was told that it would be easier for both me and my daughter to just cold turkey cut it off.
Third, was something I didn’t expect and what I’m going to focus on: I became depressed. I began noticing that I was irritable, stressed, had no patience in situations where I usually kept my cool, and had a general lack of joy. I have an amazing life and nothing was “wrong,” so why was I suddenly feeling numbness where I normally felt happiness? I couldn’t predict my own mood or my sudden dramatic reactions to trivial matters. I didn’t understand why I felt down and out of control until I stumbled upon a random post online about weaning and depression.
Suddenly, it made sense. When you breastfeed, your body releases two key hormones, prolactin and oxytocin, both of which are “love” and “relaxation” hormones. As you wean, these hormones are secreted less and less in the body. If you wean quickly, the sudden shift of these hormones can really affect the weaning mother. Those who are predisposed to depression already are even more at risk of experiencing depression or mood-related symptoms.
Learning about this changed everything for me. Having an explanation, something to attribute my feelings and emotions to, was helpful. Much of the power it had over me was taken away. It wasn’t as suffocating or scary anymore because now I understood. But it was still there. I found that doing things to boost my mood and endorphins in my body helped, like taking a walk outside, in fresh air and sunshine. But the best thing that helped me was giving myself (and baby) more patience and time with weaning.
Once I stopped trying to speed the process up, everything seemed to calm down. My body was less in shock, for one. And I began consciously enjoying and giving thanks for every feeding session, soaking it in as I knew that eventually when the timing was better, they would end. The pressure was off and I nursed when my daughter wanted or needed to, rather than staving her off and forcing weaning. The depression, like a fog, lifted and disappeared.
If you are a weaning mother, or know a weaning mom, please give her a little extra grace in times that she seems moody or impatient. If you know someone experiencing depression (weaning related or not) give them patience and understanding. Depression isn’t just a bad mood with a quick fix. It isn’t something you go to bed with one night and wake up without the next morning. It isn’t something you can just “snap out of” or “adjust your attitude” and get over. It is a very real change in the chemical and hormonal levels within your body. I never sought professional help, but was prepared to if cutting back on weaning did not help. There is nothing bad or shameful or weak about needing and seeking help to a very real and common thing.
I continued gradually weaning over the course of the next few months, taking my sweet time and refusing to pressure myself/daughter or give any time constraints. I officially was done when my daughter was just over 15 months old, after I had a small umbilical hernia repair surgery. I had some sadness when I nursed my girl for the final time, but no depression. My milk dried up entirely within two days (I used cabbage leaves!) and everything came to what felt like a natural, perfectly timed close.
My advice is: Be gentle to yourself. Listen to your body. Know that there isn’t a “one size fits all” way: what worked for one person, may or may not work for you too. Give yourself and others grace. Seek help if you need it. Know that you are normal and not alone. Take your time.
You got this, mama.
What was your weaning experience like? I’d love to hear in a comment below!