Weaning, Sadness, and Depression

5 Reasons You May Feel Down When Your Baby Stops Breastfeeding

Mother holding young child looking sad
You may feel sad when it's time to stop breastfeeding your child. photography by Rick Lowe/Moment/Getty Images

Weaning, Sadness, and Depression

Weaning is a time of change. It can be a relief for some women, but for others, it can feel like a tremendous loss. Even if you've been counting down the days until your baby finally stops breastfeeding, you might be surprised to find that it's still a little bit emotional. It may be harder than you expected to say goodbye to this special time with your child. And, while weaning may be a natural part of your little one's development that signals growth and independence, it can certainly be a time of sadness and depression for you.

These feelings are normal and more common than you might think. Here are five reasons you may feel sad or depressed during the weaning process.

5 Reasons You May Feel Depressed During and After Weaning

#1. Early Weaning: If you have to wean your baby sooner than planned, you may feel sad and disappointed that you have to stop breastfeeding. You may also feel angry or guilty that your child won't be able to get all of the benefits of breastfeeding and your breast milk for as long as you would have wanted.

When it's unexpected and not what you want, sadness and depression are understandable. It's OK to let yourself grieve, but don't be too hard on yourself. Know that you're doing the best that you can for you and your child. And, if you can't provide your breast milk to your child, remember that infant formula is a safe alternative. So, if you have to give your child formula, you do not need to feel guilty.

#2. Loss Of The Breastfeeding Relationship: There's a special bond that forms between a mother and her child during the breastfeeding relationship. When your child stops breastfeeding, there can be a feeling of emptiness as you mourn the loss of this close relationship. Try to remind yourself that there are other things besides breastfeeding that you and your child can do together to keep that close bond going strong.

 Spend time with your child in other ways. For instance, you can still snuggle and cuddle up on the couch while you talk, laugh, sing a song, or read a story together.

#3. Your Child Is Growing Up: Your child is growing older and becoming more independent. You may feel as though your child doesn't need you as much anymore. However, even though he no longer needs you to fulfill his nutritional needs, he still needs you to comfort him and provide for him in so many other ways. Try to focus on all the new and wonderful experiences that you will get to share with your child as she continues to grow and become more independent. From starting school, to joining a sports team, and more, there are so many things to look forward too. 

#4. It's Your Last Baby: It may be easier to wean your child when you're planning to have another baby. But, if you know that this is your last baby, weaning can bring about a lot of emotions. It can be hard to accept that this chapter of your life is coming to an end. However, with every ending, there is a new beginning, and it can be exciting to prepare for the next chapter of your life. 

#5. Your Body Is Changing: When you wean your child from the breast, the hormones in your body go through changes.

Hormones such as prolactin, estrogen, and progesterone, begin returning to the levels that they were before you became pregnant and started to breastfeed. When you wean your baby suddenly, these changes can affect your emotions more than if you wean your child more slowly. If possible, wean gradually. Gradual weaning gives your body more time to adjust to the hormonal changes. It doesn't mean that you won't still be sad, but the sadness may not be as overwhelming when your hormones drop off a more steady rate.

When to Seek Help for Sadness or Depression

There is a reasonable amount of sadness that goes along with the end of breastfeeding.

You may even cry, and that's OK. It's healthy to talk about how you feel and work through your emotions. You can look to your partner, family, friends, and other women who have weaned their children for support. A local breastfeeding group can also provide tips and advice to help you work through the feelings associated with weaning.

However, sometimes sadness along with the hormonal changes in your body can lead to a more severe depression. If you are crying all the time, and your sadness is overwhelming and interfering in your life, it's time to seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional.    

 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Susman VL, Katz JL. Weaning and depression: another postpartum complication. Am J Psychiatry. 1988 Apr 1;145(4):498-501.

Ystrom E. Breastfeeding cessation and symptoms of anxiety and depression: a longitudinal cohort study. BMC pregnancy and childbirth. 2012 May 23;12(1):1.

Continue Reading