My daughter just unexpectedly weaned at 16 months. I wasn’t ready, I’m still not ready. And, I definitely wasn’t prepared for what hit a few days later – the baby blues, or as some call it, the booby blues (Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick, She Knows Parenting).
At first, I attributed these feelings of defeat, failure, sadness, and anxiety to the fact that I hadn’t met my goal of at least breastfeeding until she was 2 years old. After a few days, when the feelings intensified, I wanted, NEEDED, to find out why I was feeling so down. So, I came up with a plethora of reasons as to why she stopped nursing – thinking if I could come up with the cause, I could change it and get her back to the breast. I told myself she quit because I yelled out in pain when she bit me. Then, I blamed myself for being so stressed out due to the holidays, a family medical emergency, her teething, and tons of travel. My mind started wandering and I told myself she stopped because I used a different body wash for a couple of days and then because I overindulged in some wine a couple of nights. Suddenly, it clicked – this blame game, all of this self-deprecating I was engaging in, was really the baby blues.
Could all of the above be the reasons she might have weaned? Absolutely. Was there anything I could do about it now? No. I had already tried all of the tricks I knew to encourage her to nurse again, from taking baths together, babywearing, skin to skin, napping, offering the breast but not forcing it…I just now had to accept the fact that she had weaned and I had to focus on the present instead of focusing on the woulda, coulda, shouldas.
So, that’s what I am currently doing. Focusing on being here for all of my kids, and focusing on getting back to being me – breastfeeding or not. I have goals to take better care of myself. Exercising and eating healthier. I want to focus more on my relationship with my husband. I want to be more patient, kind, playful and affectionate to my kids, something that I lose when I experience bouts of depression and anxiety (I also experienced PPD). I also am in contact with my physician and we are coming up with a treatment plan that will help me overcome this – whether through medication, therapy, or both.
Why is changing my focus and creating these goals so important to me? Well, to answer that, first you need to know how milk is produced. There are many hormones involved in the lactation process, but two of the biggies that are released when breastfeeding are prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin makes the milk and oxytocin stimulates milk let-down (Lauwers, J & Swisher, A Counseling the Nursing Mother). When prolactin is released, it has a calming effect on the breastfeeding mom. And, when oxytocin is stimulated, it promotes bonding between mom and baby, which is also why it’s known as the love or mothering hormone. When you wean, whether through baby-led weaning or for other reasons, these hormones are not being released by your body at the same rate as when you are breastfeeding. Thus, this may be one of the reasons for these baby blues (booby blues). So, for me, these goals are important because exercise, forms of affection and intimacy with a loved one, laughing and eating healthier – these are all things that release oxytocin. And, my hope is by meeting these goals, I can help conquer these blues.
One of the best ways to decrease the likelihood of being depressed postweaning is to slowly wean. Wait until the baby is ready, let her lead, and take your time. If you already have weaned and noticed you are having mood swings, feelings of sadness, being overwhelmed, a sense of dread, or just a sense of something being off – know you aren’t alone. If you need to, please contact your physician or refer to our facebook group’s resource document on PPD https://www.facebook.com/notes/breastfeed-chicago/breastfeeding-friendly-ppd-resources/385738358179990. If you are not a member of our facebook group, if in Illinois, please refer to this website to find help: www.ppdil.org/ppdhelp.html. Not in Illinois? Check out this link and hotline for help: Postpartum Support International, http://www.postpartum.net, PSI Depression hotline: 1.800.944.4PPD
More info on Weaning and Depression:
Pearson, Catherine, Weaning and Depression Linked in Many Women http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/weaning-depression-link-breastfeeding-postpartum-depression_n_1301233.html
Comfort Measures for Mom during Weaning: http://kellymom.com/ages/weaning/wean-how/weaning_mom/#sadness
McGolerick Elizabeth Weiss, Coping with The Booby Blues: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/958781/depression-from-weaning
Other stories on feeling depressed after weaning:
Goddard, Joanna, Motherhood Mondays: The hardest two months of my life: http://joannagoddard.blogspot.com/2012/02/motherhood-depression-and-weaning.html
Jennifer Adams is a mom of 3 who pumped for her first and breastfed her second and third. She is a CAPPA Certified Postpartum Doula, Certified Lactation Specialist, and serves on the Board of Breastfeed, Chicago! Jennifer wants to normalize breastfeeding in Chicago and beyond.