Depression and Weaning

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Hormone Crash after Weaning?

March 2004

I recently weaned my 2-year-old. It was quite easy and only a few days of mildly sore breasts; I think we were both ready. That was about a month ago. Now, just the past few days, all of a sudden I am having what appears to be the most incredible case of pms in the world (yet I am mid-cycle): I can't stop crying, I scream at my husband, and I have this intense, aching sadness in my chest much of the time. I can't remember feeling like this since adolescence, when everything seemed to hurt my feelings. I feel a little like I'm being peeled! This is my second child, and I nursed the first one into the pregnancy of my second. Consequently, I have been either pregnant or nursing (or both) for six years now. I've been having pretty small periods since I weaned her. I'm forty, so I don't think it's menopause! My question is, has anyone experienced a hormone crash from weaning? Is this common? Or is something else going on, and it's just coincidence that it's around this time? Any suggestions on how to cope would be great. Thanks!

I also had extreme ''PMS'' after weaning my daughter. I know many people who have experienced this. However, I also had bad postpartum depression. I recovered from the postpartum depression after about three months. I did not want to suffer again when I got hormonally depressed from weaning my daughter so I went on antidepressants. I think I would have bounced back after a few months but I wasn't willing to go through the few months of depression. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I hope it goes away for you soon - but it if doesn't I recommend getting help. Life is too short. Good luck Been There

Oh, yeah, do I ever remember that. For a few weeks after I weaned my son, I felt like I was having a major clinical depression. In fact, just a little while ago I read over something I wrote in a journal around that time, which ended with my ''screaming'' (in pencil, all caps, lots of exclamation points) ''I HATE MYSELF, I HATE MY LIFE, I HATE EVERYTHING.'' I even went and saw an old counselor of mine -- but just for a couple of weeks. After that, suddenly, miraculously, everything was fine -- and I figured out what the problem had been. Karen

Oh yes, this sounds very familiar. Indeed, I know many women who have gone through very emotional times just after weaning, a few who became quite depressed. You will return to equilibrium. However, perhaps it's time to talk to a doctor or a nursing specialist about how to weather the changes. Carolyn

I also weaned my son just over a week ago, after very very gradually cutting down feedings to just a supplemental feeding after his morning bottle. About 3 days after his last time nursing, I had a very hormonal/pms-type day. It was also in the middle of my cycle, and very striking! I felt like I had as a teenager: a kind-of moody, depressed-in-my-body kind of feeling. I think it was quite separate from the loss I have been feeling about the nursing (which is also more intense than I expected --my son still asks to nurse several times a day: he doesn't know he will never nurse again, but I do! so I feel I'm holding the loss for us both). Luckily, the physiological depression only seemed to last a day, and so I'm left to handle only the emotional feelings (as I mentioned, intense, but very distinct from the physical ones). I'm curious to hear what other women have to say about this. I've heard that it takes a couple of months for your body to get back to normal hormonally after weaning... Also Weaning

I've just had a similar experience just very recently. Thought not entirely weaned yet, my daughter has been nursing less and less frequently in the last couple of months, expecially at night ( :-) ). This triggered my cycles to get back in track. The first period after 2.5 years was by far the worst I've ever had. Preceded by very low mood and migraines, I was first relieved when it started - ah, that's why I was so miserable! - only to suffer a few more days from cramping, nervousness, back pain, all of this a lot worse than it used to be. I talked to a number of other women, and I learned that it is not uncommon that the first one or two period are really bad. Will get back to normal after that. So, I'm am optimistic... and I'm thinking of exploring some natural approaches to help my body handling this transition (good food, no coffeine, fresh air and sun, essences etc.), and may be more specific things if it persists (accupuncture). This is not exactly what you describe, as I didn't entirely wean yet, but the bottom line may be the same. Get well soon, Julia

I experienced a pretty awful two months after I weaned my younger son. I too, weaned slowly but experienced what felt like a pretty severe postpartum depression. It subsided without any special treatment and I felt a bit more in control when I realized what was causing it. Also, I tried to get a bit more excercise. anon

Is my depression related to weaning?

June 2002

Does anyone know whether gradually weaning a breastfed baby has a tendency to cause depression? I've read that SUDDEN weaning can cause depression, but in my case the process has been quite gradual, and I've just now completed it by cutting out the morning feeding. (My child is 9 months old.) All of a sudden I find that I'm feeling anxious, unable to sleep well, having hormonal sobbing fits that remind me of when I was pregnant, etc. I'm wondering whether I'm just having a small bout of random depression, or whether there's a connection -- and if there is, how long I can expect this to last! Thanks, if you have any thoughts.

I too weaned gradually and had about a week or two's worth of depression. I know it was exacerbated by my daughter's struggles with the weaning: I felt some guilt and ambivalence that added to whatever potent hormonal brew circulated in my veins.

What helped me was to talk about it with sympathetic friends and my husband. One friend lent me _The Nursing Mothers' Guide to Weaning_ by Huggins and another person whose name I forget. Apparently, depression after weaning is not unusual.

Hang in there and take care of yourself.

I also gradually weaned my son last year and experienced pretty severe mood swings and depression. I thought I was going a bit nuts until my sister made the connection between the weaning and my feelings/moods. It was hormonal hell. I saw an acupuncturist/herbalist and started to feel much more even keeled. Good luck. JV

This sounds exactly like me. I just weaned my 12-month-old, very gradually, and have been having some symptoms of depression -- anxiety, mood swings, etc. Things got pretty bad right after I stopped the early morning nursing, about 2 weeks ago. There are other possible contributing factors (career decisions that must be made, general lack of sleep), but my husband pointed out that maybe the lack of the oxytocin your body produces when nursing is difficult for some people to adjust to. I have no medical evidence to back this up, but it sounds plausible, given that oxytocin is a hormone that makes one feel relaxed. Karen

Hi, I also scoured the web for information on weaning and depression after I weaned my daughter three months ago, but didn't find much. I also weaned very gradually, cutting out feedings slowly over several months. But after the last one went I felt everything you described --- I was afraid I was pregnant again because of all the obviously hormonal weepiness. Like you, I only found info on depression and abrupt weaning, but I am pretty certain that I was suffering weaning-related depression (good thing my husband put two and two together for me!). Though it became pretty clear to me when I fell off the wagon after a week of not nursing (my daughter was begging so pathetically) and found my mood instantly elevated. I began to wonder if I was a kind of nursing addict --- my brain was suffering from the absence of those hormones that are released when you nurse. I decided to self-medicate with my old kicked drug of choice caffeine (on the wagon for 5 years of being pregnant twice and nursing for 15 and 23 months), and, while I am no longer depressed and haven't nursed my daughter for 3 months now, I am, once again, a coffee addict. I imagine the depression would have lifted without the caffeine, and I did go a week without coffee and had lots of headaches, but no depression. I apologize for this stream-of-consciousness. I hope it helps to know that you are not alone and are likely to get past it in a month or two. It made me feel better to read your post and know that other people go through the same thing!

I got behind on my e-mail and didn't see your post until after the newsletter went on vacation, so I hope by the time you read this, you are feeling better. Earlier this year I became very depressed after weaning my son at 19 months. Weaning had been gradual, and then I dropped the last feeding (once a day, before his afternoon nap). Within about a week, I realized that I was seriously depressed and experienceing mood swings which I eventually connected to the weaning. It was sort of like very exaggerated PMS. For me, it lasted about a bit over a month --through one complete menstrual cycle. I started to feel better almost the minute my period started. If I hadn't started to feel better, I was planning to consult my obgyn and to seek advice on other alternatives (herbs, acupuncture, etc.). Although there was some emotional componant to my mood and behavior, it seemed to me to be mostly a hormonal problem. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to take any kind of hormones or medication. I was lucky that it cleared up just through the normal flow of my hormonal cycle. It does make me feel better to hear that others had the same experience. I had never heard of anyone else having this problem and hadn't had any trouble when I weaned my older son at 18 months several years ago. I started to refer to it as my ''post-lacation depression''. It was very real and took me very much by surprise. If yours hasn't gone away yet, don't dismiss it, but please try to seek whatever help and support you need. Good luck! Karen