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10 Ways to Manage Post-Weaning Depression

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Whether you’ve nursed your baby three months or three years, weaning can be a complex, emotional process. Some women even experience clinical depression as they wean. And it’s no wonder—breastfeeding stimulates the production of the hormone oxytocin, which is commonly referred to as “the love hormone” because of its feel-good qualities. When breastfeeding stops, so does the oxytocin. At the same time, many women feel emotional about everything from “my baby is growing so fast” to “I wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding.” Jane Roper, the author of the parenting memoir “Double Time,” suffered from post-weaning depression and offers 10 tips for how to navigate your way back to motherly happiness.

Know That It’s Real

a woman sitting on a sofa looking sad

Post-weaning depression is not anywhere as frequently discussed—or studied—as postpartum depression, but it is as legitimate an issue, and it deserves care and attention. “There’s growing awareness,” says Roper, though public consciousness still has a long way to go. But a hormonal shift is a hormonal shift, whether it comes after giving birth or when lactation stops. In both cases, your brain may go through a tough transition period as it seeks equilibrium.

Check in with Your Doctor

a woman consulting a doctor

If your symptoms last for more than two weeks, Roper advises making an appointment with your primary care doctor, who might then to refer you to a psychiatrist who specials in postnatal issues. The body of knowledge on post-weaning depression is growing, she says, and “there’s no shame in getting help. Don’t suffer unnecessarily for too long.”

Consider Medication

a package of pills

Your doctor might suggest antidepressant medications, especially if more time is going by and other therapies are not working. Don’t be afraid, says Roper, of helping your brain with medication. “Antidepressants, even if only for a couple of months, might recalibrate things,” she says. When taken together with talk therapy or other counseling or support approaches, medication can be a very helpful intervention, especially if the post-weaning depression is diagnosed early.

Move Your Body

a woman doing exercise in her living room

Post-weaning depression is, fundamentally, “your body recalibrating itself to a big hormonal change,” says Roper, and exercise can help. The endorphins released when you exercise can give you temporary relief from everyday depressive feelings, and over time, an exercise routine may help your hormones come back into balance. “It takes time for your body to find that equilibrium again,” cautions Roper, so don’t be discouraged if one session on the treadmill doesn’t reset things entirely.

Eat Well

a row of vegetables with happy faces

It can be hard to eat right when you’re going through any kind of depression, but choosing nourishing, unprocessed, protein- and vitamin-rich foods is “your best shot of feeling healthy and well” from a lifestyle perspective, says Roper. So-called “brain foods,” like avocados and fish that contain Omega-3 fatty acids may be especially good choices as your brain works on regulating its hormonal signals. Remember to drop the extra calories you were eating to breastfeed and keep your body clean by hydrating with plenty of water.

Try Acupuncture

a woman receiving acupuncture

When your body is going through a change, acupuncture can be a gentle way to help you re-establish your energetic and emotional balance. Though Roper says its benefits were temporary for her, she advises acupuncture for post-weaning depression. In addition to the physical and emotional boost you may get, “there’s something very wonderful about feeling like someone is just working on healing you,” she says. That focused time is precious, especially with a baby at home—“You don’t have those moments of serene space for yourself,” she says.

Be Kind to Yourself

a person making a heart shape with their hands

“Go easy on yourself,” says Roper, “because the last thing you need is to feel guilty on top of being depressed.” Take some time each day for a quiet, calming practice like meditation, and give yourself permission to step back from a busy schedule to carve out time for healing. “Say no to any obligations you feel like you can’t take on,” advises Roper—and then let go of any feelings that you aren’t doing enough.

Get Support from Your Partner

two people holding hands

Even partners who are involved in baby’s care and aware of the warning signs of postpartum depression might be caught off guard by post-weaning depression. So as you learn about the condition, be sure to educate your partner--or a close friend if you're single. “This isn’t you being weak or dramatic,” says Roper, “This is real, and it’s something you need support with.” Asking for him or her to take charge of a few dinners a week or an hour or two of alone time with the baby will also give you space to get the help and rest you need.

Try Nutritional Supplements

a wooden spoon dilled with pills

There are a number of nutritional supplements that may help with post-weaning depression. Check with your health practitioner of course, but zinc supplements, for example, may help reduce stress hormone levels. Dried sage is one of several herbs that can help decrease your milk supply and make weaning a smoother process. Omega-3 supplements support brain function and may help prevent depressive symptoms from worsening. Women should discuss any supplements or herbs with a trained professional and, if possible, their doctors.

Focus on the Positive

a woman outside holding her arms up at sunrise

Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, Roper advises trying to see the end of breastfeeding as “liberating” in that it gives you a bit of physical freedom to play with in your parenting life and your self care alike. “Transitions are hard,” she says, “but you get to come out the other side. It’s a new beginning, in a way.”

 
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