Coping with Weaning and Depression

weaning and depressionNursing is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a mom, and yet, I experienced a sadness each time when it was over, even though I some ways I felt like I had anticipated this moment from the time my daughters were each born.

Weaning marks a new freedom in your life, but also an additional separation between you and your baby. It’s normal and natural and good, but it can also be sad, especially so if this child is the last time you’ll get to experience the closeness of the mom/baby nursing relationship.

What can really complicate this already very sunrise/sunset moment is hormones. (Don’t they complicate everything? Geez.) Hormones are added and subtracted each time we cycle, get pregnant, have a baby, miscarry, start nursing, decrease nursing, or cease nursing. Each event kind of creates a trainwreck of the old mix of hormones making their way out while the new mix is making its way in, and that can make you feel pretty crazy, especially if you’re under any other additional stressors at the time.

There are some things you can do to help minimize the impact of the just the hormonal ups and downs. If there are additional things going on in your life while you are weaning, these tips may not help by themselves. You may need to talk to someone or seek some other solutions until things settle down in your life or until you adjust. But if you don’t have additional stress, try ideas for helping your body adjust to your new hormonal normal.

  1. Get exercise. When you wean, you’re suddenly deprived of oxytocin, that life-giving hormone that also carries with it a serious natural high. One way to get some of that high again is through exercise. New recommendations by some experts indicate that the average person needs not just 30 minutes a day, but an hour. And if you can get that exercise outdoors, even better. Sunlight and natural vitamin D are great for your immune system and your mood. I stay motivated to exercise by making it me-time. No double jogging strollers for me, thanks. I like to go it alone and have some time each day where I only have to worry about me.
  2. Breathe properly. Many times when we are feeling stress, the shoulders tighten, our chest tightens, and we end up hunched over and closed up. Focus on sitting with your shoulders back and chest open. Breathe deeply for a count of 5 or 8. Focus on your breath and nothing else. Here are 6 great breathing exercises that can help de-stress you. Encourage your kids to participate if they are with you and you need a moment.
  3. Don’t lean on sugar and caffeine to prop your mood up. It’s tempting to reach for a cup of coffee and comfort food when we feel down, but sugar can mess with hormones in a bad way. Make sure you’re eating enough protein and healthy fats, and try to keep processed foods to a minimum.
  4. Regulate your sleep. Sleep has a huge impact on mood and energy levels, but you probably didn’t need a blog to tell you that. Try to go to bed and wake at about the same time every day—even on weekends—and turn off electronics about two hours before bedtime. Dimming lights and eliminating screen time before bed will help everyone in your home transition to bedtime easier.
  5. Encourage the production of oxytocin. You can help wean your body off those big hits of oxytocin you used to get through nursing by giving it smaller hits. You get small doses of oxytocin released from your brain when you hug, snuggle, kiss, or cuddle with your kids and other loved ones. Oxytocin is also released when we spend time with our women friends, too. You heard it here first—girls’ night, doctor’s orders!

If you feel “off” during or after weaning and just can’t seem to recover your mood, talk to your doctor, midwife or doula, naturopath, or a counselor. There may be additional things you can do to help that don’t involve medication, but sometimes medication is a very helpful option, too.

Every mom’s journey is different, even the same individual with different children, so give yourself the space and grace to work through this time without judgment for how you get through it.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls. She lives and writes in Oklahoma City.   

Tags: breathing, depression, hormones, medication, mental health, sleep, weaning

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