Stopping Breastfeeding Can Lead to Depression

Say What!? 25

breastfeedingWhen the topic of breastfeeding comes up, it's mostly regarding the controversy surrounding nursing your baby in public or how to get your baby started at the breast and successfully latched on. And of course how long is too long for a mother to breastfeed her baby thanks to that Time magazine cover. What isn't talked about much is the link between breastfeeding and depression. Yes, there's a link. And it's not about being depressed you can't produce enough milk (that's another story for another day). This is about how weaning can create such a change in our hormones that we can experience postpartum depression. 

This happened to me. Breastfeeding can be blissful. There were times when nursing my twins had a more relaxing effect on me than a one-hour massage by the most skilled hands. And when my kids weaned themselves, I experienced extreme sadness.

Why don't they want me anymore? Please nurse, please! What is this rejection? Was I eating too much garlic? Does my milk taste bad? How am I supposed to protect them from all the germs they are going to come in contact with when they aren't protected by the goodness in my breast milk? Where did that incredible feeling I got when nursing go? I want it back! Please nurse, please!

Those were just some of my emotions. And I'm not alone. Mamas, if you too are going through this, you aren't alone. We moms are actually NEVER alone. Maybe the twin thing gave me double the emotional issues. Mom and author or Double Time Jane Roper felt the same way when her 13-month-old twin daughters stopped breastfeeding. Her mood went south, she lost motivation and couldn't concentrate. It got worse and worse and she sought help. 

More from The Stir: 4 Surprising Health Benefits of Breastfeeding -- for Moms

Could it be postpartum depression? Is there breastfeeding side effects? (I'd say yes.) Isn't that just something moms get sort of soon after giving birth? Roper felt it at 13 months after. I felt it at 17 months after. All after stopping breastfeeding. "The intersection between lactation and mood is important, and it is extremely understudied," Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, who is the director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders, said. "There are definitely people who report mood symptoms associated with lactation."

When it comes to breastfeeding, mostly only "failed lactation" depression was studied. Isn't that horrible? Failed lactation? Don't mind the extreme pressure, mamas! Fail is a four-letter word.

For me, I think the depression I felt when my kids weaned is because I wasn't ready. They were. They stopped. I kept trying. They were done with me. I blamed myself. Blamed having to go back to work and only getting them to the actual breast once in the morning and once before bed. I felt they got used to drinking from a bottle and not from me. I blamed my lack of good production in one breast. I blamed myself. I wanted to feel that incredible oxytocin boost -- that falling in love hormone -- that I got from breastfeeding. Without it, I was sad. My focus was gone. I was overwhelmed. I was not alone.

And neither are you if you are feeling this way. Talk about your feelings with your partner, your family. See a therapist. Get help.

Do you feel depression from stopping breastfeeding?


Image via Daniel Lobo/Flickr

breastfeeding, natural parenting, postpartum recovery


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miche... micheledo

Yay. Something to look forward to! :/ I have been nursing for 7.5 years. I imagine it will be a relief AND depressing when I am done.

mande... manderspanders

I've exclusively breastfed my 3 week old son, and frankly, I'll be elated when it is over. My supply is good, we have latch issues worked out, baby is growing well..So probably would be considered "successful" at this point. But I really don't like it...I feel like I'm suffering through it for the good of my son. I really haven't found much enjoyment or relaxation. I have a hard time thinking I could become depressed if I quit; it would be pure relief.

nonmember avatar MammaMel

probably why I STILL regret weaning my son when he was 2 years old...wish I had gone longer!

nonmember avatar FarmersWife

@manderspanders- if your son is just 3 weeks wait and see how you feel in a new months or a year. I HATED the first 4 weeks of nursing. It was hell. I spent the next six months deciding when to wean. Now at 18 months, I will fight tooth and nail to make it to the recommended 24 months and pray we will go longer. The bond is amazing, the benefits, the connection, the comfort and what an amazing tool to help work through tantrums!! Just wait and see, chances are you'll feel differently down the road.

Brain... BrainyMommy

Stop blaming yourself and you probably won't be depressed. Breastfeeding is about your baby. It's not about you. If your baby voluntarily stops, then that's what your baby wants. Please respect your baby enough to listen to what it's trying to tell you. 

nonmember avatar Lbdmom

The only thing I felt when I weaned both of my sons was relief and happiness. I breastfed one for nine months and the other for a year. I was so happy to not have to watch what I ate or drank and to be able to have a glass of wine and get my body back. I never enjoyed breast feeding, just did it because I was able and it was cheap and good for them. Definitely no depression though, maybe I'm just weird.

nonmember avatar Rhodi

The loss of oxytocin is more likely the cause of depression than just feeling rejected. Obviously, the bonding that comes with nursing (which really, in my opinion, only comes with the willingness to sit and connect with the baby and just be still for a while)is a sad loss as babies become more independent. I was bummed when all three of my children weaned themselves. But I did not expect the severe depression that came from the loss of oxytocin dumps into my system that I received while nursing. I never connected the two. Of course, the OTHER way to get those oxytocin dumps would probably help with that depression. ;)

nonmember avatar Army wife

I can relate so much to this article. When I started trying to wean my son at 12 months so I could go back to work and try to concieve again I quickly changed my mind. He was fine but I just couldn't do it. So I pushed it back. He weaned himself about 5 months later but if I tried offering him my breast he could take it, otherwise he wouldn't express interest except before bed. I still felt bad, called New Parent Support and had to have them comfort me that it's OK to stop breastfeeding, mostly if they wean themselves. But I was definitely sad, cried a lot and felt really hormonal, worst than I've ever felt before. I'm expecting now and can't wait to breastfeed my next little miracle :)

Shannon Lockwood

Interesting article- I'd really like to know what the biological facts are without clouding the issue with the authors personal experience of feeling rejected.  If the cessation of breastfeeding really does cause depression then most moms would feel depressed when they stopped whether or not it was child led.  It's one thing to miss the closeness, it's another to be actually depressed.

Journ... Journeysmama11

I completely think there is truth to this. I was only able to nurse my daughter for about 3-4 months. I got so incredibly depressed when that happened! I have noticed I have been way more emotional since my son (just 2 weeks shy of 1) has started nursing less. I know I will be sad to stop. But there comes a time when it does end. I just get really sad and upset to think about that. I don't want to right now, but I think he may be an "early" wean-er. :/ I know some people can go until 2 or 3. Which I am completely ok with...and even WANT to go until 2...but I'm not entirely sure if he will pick it up a bit more after his least I hope so! I feel like I will be pretty depressed when I have to stop. 

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