Post-weaning depression is a form of mental illness which can occur after a woman stops breastfeeding. Like other types of depression, it requires immediate medical attention. It is a result of hormonal fluctuations and/or the psychological stress of weaning the baby and teaching them to accept semi-solid food.
The initial symptoms of post-weaning depression include increased irritability, tearfulness, loss of pleasure in activities the mother usually enjoys, fatigue and trouble concentrating, says Dr Shilpi Srivastava, a lactation expert.
Why these kinds of depression often get under diagnosed?
The expert answers: “Post-weaning depression doesn’t always set in right after a mom stops breastfeeding. Because of this, it’s likely that some moms are going through it without ever connecting their symptoms to the weaning process. Oestrogen generally remains lower during breastfeeding and returns to pre-pregnancy levels after weaning. For some women, this happens at slower rates. Shifting oestrogen levels cause depressed or irritable mood for some women.”
Lack of monitoring – Post-weaning depression doesn’t get its fair share of attention. That may have something to do with the fact that mothers aren’t always closely monitored for depression at the time of weaning.
Hormonal shifts – Oxytocin, which increases during breastfeeding, decreases with weaning. This is the bonding, feel-good hormone and a woman may miss the oxytocin rush and instead experience an intense feeling of loss and sadness. Other hormones play a role, too. Prolactin, which is typically elevated during breastfeeding, is associated with feelings of calm. An abrupt decrease in this hormone after weaning can cause negative feelings.
Lack of awareness – Women often do not reveal they have these feelings or don’t realise that post-weaning depression is what they are experiencing.
When should one seek help?
Some sadness and a feeling of loss may be normal during the weaning process, but if you feel like something larger may be at work, experts recommend seeking help. If the symptoms become severe enough to interfere with your ability to function, if you have thoughts of suicide, if you have trouble taking care of yourself and the baby, if you have difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite, then the condition is more severe and requires evaluation and treatment
Mothers who are dealing with any of these symptoms can get in touch with their gynaecologist to help determine the best course of treatment. This may include therapy, medication, or supplemental hormones. Sometimes the symptoms or their timeline may not even fit the commonly painted picture of maternal mental health issues.
Don’t suffer in silence. Visit a doctor. Talk to your spouse, family and friends. Seek out mental and psychological counselling. Mothers need looking after too.