Post-Weaning Depression: What You Need to Know


The article titled “Post-Weaning Depression: What You Need to Know” provides valuable information and insights into the often-overlooked topic of post-weaning depression. Many individuals experience a range of symptoms, intense emotions, and mood swings after they stop breastfeeding, regardless of how long they fed their baby. This article delves into what post-weaning depression is, its potential causes, and the common symptoms to look out for. It also touches upon the physical and emotional changes that can occur after weaning, such as guilt, changes in bonding, engorgement, mastitis, and alterations in menstrual cycles. The article emphasizes that post-weaning depression is temporary and offers tips on managing and seeking support for this transitional phase. Ultimately, the goal is to provide understanding, support, and guidance to individuals who may be experiencing post-weaning depression.

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What Is Post-Weaning Depression?

Post-weaning depression refers to feelings of anxiety, depression, irritation, and moodiness after someone stops breastfeeding. It’s important to understand that regardless of how long you breastfed or whether you wean intentionally or for other reasons outside of your control, you may experience post-weaning depression. It’s also important to differentiate that while it is not a clinical diagnosis like postpartum depression, and research is still emerging, post-weaning depression experiences can be very real for many women. So, let’s dive into why it might occur and what symptoms to look out for.

What Causes Post-Weaning Depression?

Many of us know about the massive hormonal changes that occur after giving birth, but a similar shift also occurs when weaning. When we feed our babies via the breast, we release oxytocin and prolactin. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is released when we are close or skin-to-skin with our babies. It helps us release or let down milk, supports our bond with our babies, promotes a sense of well-being, and reduces stress. Prolactin helps with milk supply and increases feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. When we cease breastfeeding, our bodies no longer release these chemicals at the same level and consistency, and it has to adjust. We no longer have these feel-good chemicals on tap, and there can be an adjustment period as our body weans off these feel-good hormones.

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Weaning Depression?

In addition to the chemical changes, breastfeeding is not just about chemicals. There are also the physical and emotional changes to consider after stopping breastfeeding, such as:

  1. Guilt: Perhaps you didn’t breastfeed for as long as you wanted or had to wean for some reason. Mothers feel a lot of pressure to breastfeed, and you may face stigma if you don’t or can’t.
  2. Bonding: Many feel that breastfeeding is a time for bonding and miss this experience when they wean. In addition, weaning signifies a step toward independence . . . and being away from you. This can be upsetting and distressing.
  3. Engorgement: There are physical side effects of stopping breastfeeding. For instance, when breasts don’t fully drain after feeding, they can become uncomfortable and full. They can feel warm to the touch, leak, and swell in size until they are used to no longer producing milk.
  4. Mastitis: This can sometimes feel like the flu and is associated with weaning. Others experience mastitis when their breast doesn’t fully drain, and it can lead to flu-like symptoms or infections because the stagnant milk can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  5. Periods: Your period may return or change. This is because hormones influence our periods, and the swings and hormonal shifts when weaning can mean our periods look different in terms of duration, flow, pain, and emotional upheaval in the lead-up.
  6. Weight gain: We burn calories when we breastfeed, and when we stop, many women are used to a particular diet or volume of food. It can take a little while for appetites to return to normal, so it’s natural to experience weight gain or other body changes.

How Long Does Post-Weaning Depression Last?

You may be curious about how long it takes for hormones to balance after weaning, and while there is no exact date or timeline, symptoms will likely resolve in a few weeks. Post-weaning depression is only temporary, and your body will adjust. Please know that even if things are temporary or relatively normal regarding weaning experiences or if your symptoms bother or concern you, it’s still okay and essential for you to seek support.

Can You Prevent Post-Weaning Depression?

Because weaning is associated with chemicals and hormonal changes, you might not be able to stave off post-weaning depression entirely. But there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood or severity:

  1. Slowly wean: This isn’t always possible, but if you can gradually taper down your breastfeeds, your body gets used to a gradual reduction rather than a sudden change.
  2. Don’t rush it: Some parents feel pressure to wean because of milestones like age, the development of teeth, etc., but don’t fall into that trap. Wean whenever is necessary or right for you and your child; only you will know when it is right.

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How To Get Help for Post-Weaning Depression

There are some things you can do for yourself to help with post-weaning depression, like finding another way to bond with your baby or keeping up skin-to-skin contact, which helps with oxytocin release. You can also engage in other feel-good activities like exercise or self-care.

Understanding the potential changes and making plans is essential; if you understand the impact of physical and emotional changes, you can better plan for support. Consider things like meal prep (to ensure you have a good source of nutrients and healthy meal options while you wean), check in with your general practitioner, find telehealth services, or try face-to-face counseling if you need support. You could also check in with your local lactation consultant, find a local La Leche rep, chat with friends, or even arrange emotional support check-ins with loved ones.

Weaning is a big step. Sometimes, it’s the first significant marker for parents that their child is becoming independent. This can be a time of celebration but also a time of distress or mixed emotions. Ensure you make the right or necessary choices for yourself and your family, with no pressure from external influences. And make sure you have a good support network when you start the weaning process. You’ve got this!


The breastfeeding journey is unique for each person, and it’s important to recognize the potential challenges that can arise after weaning. Post-weaning depression is a real experience for many women, characterized by feelings of anxiety, depression, and moodiness. While it is different from postpartum depression, it’s essential to seek support and understand that it is temporary.

The causes of post-weaning depression are rooted in hormonal changes, including the reduction of oxytocin and prolactin release after weaning. This adjustment can lead to physical and emotional symptoms such as guilt, impact on bonding, engorgement, mastitis, changes in periods, and weight gain.

While there is no exact timeline for how long post-weaning depression lasts, symptoms typically resolve within a few weeks as the body adjusts. However, seeking support and assistance during this time is crucial for overall well-being.

Preventing post-weaning depression may not be entirely possible, but gradually tapering down breastfeeding and not rushing the weaning process can help reduce the likelihood and severity of symptoms.

If experiencing post-weaning depression, there are self-help strategies that can provide some relief, such as finding alternative ways to bond with the baby and engaging in self-care activities. Seeking professional support from healthcare providers, lactation consultants, and counselors is also highly recommended. Building a support network of loved ones can provide emotional assistance during this transitional period.

In conclusion, the weaning process should be celebrated as a significant milestone for parents and their growing children. It is a time to make choices based on individual needs and circumstances, ensuring that the physical and emotional well-being of both the parent and child are prioritized. With the right support, information, and self-care, the challenges of post-weaning depression can be navigated successfully.

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