Whether you struggle for a day, a week, or a month…
Whether you both took to it immediately or there were tussles along the way…
Whether you’re a mum of one or a mum of five with triplets…
If you’re anything like me, when you stopped breastfeeding you experienced some inexplicable sense of loss.
And then you realised: something really had been lost. A connection. A bond that’s ancient in origin and profound in symbolism. If like me you also struggled, you may well have experienced the additional loss of identity. I wanted to be one of those women proudly breastfeeding in a shop, a cafe, a restaurant, harnessing my extroversion to continue paving the way for more introverted mums who might hate the stares—as well as the occasional glares—of the more ignorant members of the public.
Cutting the umbilical cord is the first disconnection. Weaning is the second.
Weaning is a profound milestone. For some women it’s a relief, but for others it’s a time of sadness. Even if you’ve been counting the days until you switch to the bottle, you might be surprised by your sudden emotions. Breastfeeding is the single most intense bonding activity a mother can ever have with her child, so saying goodbye to that is no easy feat. Weaning is natural, of course, signalling growth and independence, but that doesn’t negate your melancholy.
3 reasons you might feel depressed during and after weaning
1) Premature weaning
If you wean too early, you might feel unprepared for your baby to move to the bottle but then feel hesitant to disrupt their development by returning them to your breast. If you move them on to formula, you may also feel guilty they’re not getting all the natural benefits of your breast milk for as long as you’d initially hoped.
When you wean, hormones such as prolactin, oestrogen, and progesterone start dipping back down to the levels they were at when you were pregnant. And when you wean particularly fast, these changes can play havoc with your emotions. That’s why gradual weaning is recommended whenever possible, as it affords your body time to adjust. You might still feel sad from time to time, but allowing your hormones to drop off at a steady rate hopefully means you won’t be overwhelmed by emotion.
3) You don’t plan on having any more children
If you see more babies in the future, weaning can be less of a suckerpunch. But if you know this littl’un’s your last, weaning can stir a potent cocktail of emotions. Just remember, though: this might be the end of a chapter, sure—but it’s only the very beginning of a long and wondrous childhood.
Being emotional around weaning simply means you’re a mum
The end of breastfeeding will probably spark at least some sadness in you, if not a lot. You might spend hours upon end sobbing, weeping for what was surely meant to be—crying for having failed your child before you’ve even started. Just like I did.
And that’s okay—if that’s what your body’s urging you to do, let it out. Channel that emotion.
Talk to your loved ones about how you feel, and work through those feelings. Look to the people around you for support: your family, your friends, and consider reaching out to other mums who have experienced weaning. Join social media groups, a local breastfeeding meetup—not to mention the hallowed Mumsnet. They’ll be only too delighted to offer tips and moral support when it comes to weaning. Do remember, though: if you’re crying all the time and your sadness is interfering with your life and mothering, think about seeking advice from your doctor. I wish I’d done this sooner myself.
As you gaze at your bundle of joy suckling away oblivious to everything except their rich and nutritious meal, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever be anything but this tiniest and most special incarnation of hope and innocence.
…But they’re already growing up. And just as we zoom around the sun yet scarcely notice the lazy drift of a cloud on a summer’s day, so your baby is gaining independence at lightning speed—just in ways you can’t see. So when you wean, you may feel on some level they don’t need you anymore.Of course, you also know that’s not true. Once you accept that your baby doesn’t need you for nutrition, you can channel all your love and energy into supporting them toward every other milestone imaginable. And trust me—they’ve scarcely even begun to show you the true wonder of their potential.