It’s not unusual to feel tearful, sad or mildly depressed after weaning; some mothers also experience irritability, anxiety, or mood swings. These feelings are usually short-term and should go away in a few weeks, but some mothers experience more severe symptoms that require treatment. If you’re experiencing feelings that are affecting your quality of life for more than a couple of weeks, it would be a good idea to seek outside help.
What causes these mood changes?
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.
Are some mothers more likely to experience depression due to weaning?
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. Mothers who are forced to wean before they are ready (or for reasons beyond their control) and mothers with a history of depression are also more likely to experience depression after weaning.
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Even for mothers who feel ready for weaning and wean gradually, there may still be some sense of loss and sadness. Weaning marks the end of a physical oneness with your child, the close of a very special period in your lives. Remember that your child’s strong need for your presence continues, even if it is now expressed in other ways.
See this article for some great tips for coping with post-weaning depression and mood swings.
Weaning Video Series #3: Emotions of Mom and Nursling During Weaning from CodeNameMama.com
Motherhood Mondays: The hardest two months of my life (weaning-related depression) by Joanna Goddard
Post-Weaning Hormones and Depression from Swistle
The End of Breastfeeding: Depression After Weaning by Susan Schade
Depression and Weaning from the Berkeley Parents Network
Stopping Breastfeeding Can Lead to Depression by Michele Zipp
Weaning (main menu) @
Weaning And Depression – Post Weaning Depression (& tips for coping) by Priscilla Stevens at BellyBelly.com.au
Post-weaning depression by Pinky McKay
Weaning as a Natural Process by Brylin Highton, from Leaven, Vol. 36 No. 6, December 2000-January 2001, p. 112-114.
Weaning and Depression Linked in Many Women by Catherine Pearson
Need more help? Handouts on Depression by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC
Stuebe AM, Grewen K, Pedersen CA, Propper C, Meltzer-Brody S. Failed lactation and perinatal depression: common problems with shared neuroendocrine mechanisms? J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2012 Mar;21(3):264-72. Epub 2011 Dec 28.
Sharma V, Corpse CS. Case study revisiting the association between breastfeeding and postpartum depression. J Hum Lact. 2008 Feb;24(1):77-9. doi: 10.1177/0890334407311413.
Trad PV. The emergence of psychopathology in a previously adaptive mother-infant dyad. Am J Psychother. 1990 Jan;44(1):95-106.
Susman VL, Katz JL. Weaning and depression: another postpartum complication. Am J Psychiatry. 1988 Apr;145(4):498-501.