Post-Partum Depression

Q. Many moms fear postpartum depression, but many nursing moms are unaware that depression can occur during and after weaning. What could cause this unexpected emotional change in mothers?

A. A lot depends on why she stopping her breastfeeding.  If she was really trying hard to make the breastfeeding work and her Doctor made her stop because the baby was not gaining enough weight, or if she was complaining of nipple pain and no one diagnosed her with a ductal yeast infection so she stopped nursing because of the pain these can situations can certainly cause the woman to feel depressed.  I have found that when women stops nursing out of a feeling of confidence and not a feeling of giving up because she is powerless the chance of sadness and depression is significantly lessened.

Q.  How can a mother determine if she’s feeling blue because her baby is no longer at the breast or if there is another reason for it?

A. Each case is so individual it is hard to generalize.  The best thing to do is make sure the reason you are weaning is for a reason you feel secure about and not out of the loss of how to problem solve the next step with the baby.  I work very hard with my clients to make sure they are successful in the first few months of breastfeeding so if they decide to stop nursing they feel secure knowing they did everything correctly to achieve a successful breastfeeding relationship. I feel moms that felt secure during the breastfeeding relationship will continue to feel secure as their relationship changes from a breastfeeding relationship to a non-breastfeeding relationship.  Some moms fear they will have trouble connecting to their child when they stop nursing because the breast becomes more than just a feeding tool.  It becomes: comfort, compassion, security, and calming.  These feeling are felt not only by the baby, but also for the mother.  When a mother weans she needs to continue activities that involve the one-on-one relationship she had such as reading a book, bathing, or just cuddling.  Often when mothers wean another member of the family takes over the feeding with a bottle so the mother may feel left out if she did not create other private activities with her child.

Q. Is depression from weaning less likely if a mother waits and allows her child to initiate the weaning?

A. Yes, yes and yes.  If the baby weans herself and the mother and baby had a good nursing relationship then mother and baby will feel fine with the weaning.  Babies will NOT nurse forever.  Either the child will become very interested in her surroundings, siblings, or fall in love with the taste and smell of foods.  Self-weaning usually never occurs before age 2 if the nursing was properly established in the beginning of the breastfeeding experience.  Most women who experienced self-weaning will say that it ‘just felt like it was the correct time.’

Q.  Is depression from weaning less likely if a mother initiates the weaning as soon as she believes she’s ready? (i.e., she’s tired of pumping, she’s tired of the biting, she’s just ready to be done, etc.)

A. I got a phone call from a woman once who called me frantically needing my assistance in helping her stop breastfeeding.  I asked her why she wanted to stop nursing.  She replied, “Because I HATE pumping. “ I repeated the question again.  Her reply was the same, “because I HATE pumping.”  I asked her why don’t you continue breastfeeding and stop the pumping.  She said, “What?  Give my breastfeeding baby formula when I am at work!”  Sometimes women get so overwhelmed about things like pumping, or putting their child on a schedule or having their babies sleep through the night that believe it is the breastfeeding that is a problem when it is often situations around the breastfeeding.  I would rather a woman just give her baby a bottle while she is at work and breastfeed when she is around her baby rather than pump if she hates pumping.

Q.  Please name a few ways that nursing moms can wean successfully so as to limit the potential for weaning depression.

A. She really needs to wean from a position of strength and not weakness.  If she is weaning because she is getting chronic breast infections or because her baby is crying all the time this will open the possibility of feeling like a failure.  If a woman has decided to wean from a place of strength then it may be important to try and make sure she includes in her life activities that stimulate oxytocin in her body.  Each time the baby latches on her breast the mother experiences a surge of oxytocin.  Many women may feel “down” without this hormone surging often in her body.  Oxytocin is called the “love hormone” because it brings joy to a person.  Ways to get oxytocin other than breastfeeding is getting a massage, exercising, being intimate with your mate, to name a few.

Q.  What are the best ways for a mother to cope with weaning and any associated depression?

A. There are some wonderful herbs available to help mother cope with hormonal changes.  My favorite is the herb Motherwort.  It is best taken in tincture (liquid) form.  25 drops diluted in water can be taken 3 times a day.  Motherwort helps balance the hormones and helps bring happiness and joy back into a woman if she is having trouble with sadness. It is an herb that can be felt within 20 minutes of taking the herb and it helps restore a woman’s calm and composure.