Weaning and Depression

I had an amazing nursing relationship with Jagger.  He took to it instinctively and with no difficulty. I know we were very lucky.  We co-slept for a year, and I nursed him on demand for over two years, establishing a fierce, unshakable bond. Those first two years, I was riding high on new motherhood and a ton of awesome hormones; specifically, oxytocin aka the love hormone.

The greatest connection is that between a mother and her child

As much as I loved nursing, he was getting a bit aggressive and I really wanted my boobs back.  One time we were standing in line at Hobby Lobby when, all of a sudden, he pulled my tank top down and started nursing to everyone’s delight or horror depending on whom you ask. That’s when I knew it was time to stop.

The timing seemed perfect to wean.  Chad and I were about to go away on a long weekend by ourselves.  Jagger would be starting school one week after we got back.  It just made sense.  So on August 11, 2016, Jagger and I had our last “Buh Buh (his name for my boobs) bath.”  It was so bittersweet.  Part of me was looking forward to a new normal and the other part of me was terrified.  How would I calm him down if he was throwing a fit? How would I console him if he was sad?  The answer for everything was always to stick a boob in his mouth.  I learned that from my late mother who did the same for me until I was two and a half.

Everything was fine for the first few days.  When we got back in town I put bandaids on my nipples because he understood that bandaids equal pain.  We went to pick him up and the first thing he said as he ran towards me was, “Buh Buh!!!”  I scooped him up in my arms, he pulled my shirt back, saw the bandaids and cried, “Noooooo!!!! Buh Buh!!! Buh Buh better!!!”  Poor baby.  Part of me wanted to rip the bandaids off and give him what he needed wanted, but I stuck to my guns.  

My birthday was August 15th, four days after our last nursing session.  I wasn’t my usual self.  I felt a bit morose.  I wore a shiny birthday shirt and worked out, two things that would normally make me ridiculously happy, but I still felt out of sorts.  I chalked up the negative feelings to my being a year older and a little freaked out about the whole late 30s thing.  I went to bed assuming I’d sleep off the birthday blues and that I would be back to normal in the morning.

When I awoke the next day, it was like I’d been hit by a dump-truck of sadness.  I couldn’t control my tears.  Getting out of bed was difficult.  A fog of despair had engulfed me, and I couldn’t see my way out.  Over the next couple of days it got progressively worse.  I had no logical explanation for what was happening to me.  My life was amazing.  I had a husband who adored me, a son and stepdaughters who were the light of my life, an awesome online coaching business, a seemingly perfect life.  So why was I feeling this way?  

According to Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC, Becky Flora, IBCLC and Paula Yount, “There is very little research on the subject, but it’s hypothesized that hormonal changes are a primary cause of mood changes during and after weaning. One of the changes that occurs with weaning is a drop in prolactin and oxytocin levels. 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.” It makes sense that a sudden decrease in these hormones could have an effect on a weaning mother’s emotions.”  They also state that “The faster the weaning process the more abrupt the shift in hormone levels, and the more likely that you will experience adverse effects. Dropping no more than one feeding per week is gentler on both mother and baby.”  

So what was the outcome?  I ended up so depressed that I needed to go on medication.  For two weeks, Jagger was a cranky, hot-tempered mess.  About three weeks after starting the medication, I woke up, and the fog had lifted.  I felt like Dorothy entering the land of Oz.  My life was colorful and bright and cheerful and happy again.  I share this story for a couple of reasons:

  1. I want women who are questioning their post-weaning craziness to know that they are not alone.  
  2. Depression is very real and very scary. Please seek help from a qualified psycotherapist.
  3. I want people to know that there shouldn’t be a stigma on mental illness.  
  4. Along with number 2, I want people to know that sometimes medication is necessary, and there should be absolutely no shame felt.
  5. If you are the spouse or partner of a woman who has just weaned their child, please be patient and understanding.  Know that this is only temporary and you will have your partner back.  

It’s been two months since I weaned Jagger. He still asks when Buh Buh will be better, and I have to explain that Buh Buh is empty now, but he is asking less and less.  He loves his school, looks adorable in his uniform, and seems so much older than he did two months ago.  Chad was a rock the entire time for which I’m incredibly grateful.  And me?  I’m doing great!  I feel full of love and joy and light again, ready to share my life and help as many people as possible along the journey.