Freedom! That’s what I thought I was going to get when I finally stopped breastfeeding. I thought I’d done rather well. I fed my son through cracked nipples, bouts of thrush (who knew you could get it there?), and his seemingly hilarious biting episodes – well they were hilarious for him at least. I kept going right up to his first birthday, when I eventually dropped the last feed.
I thought it had all gone swimmingly. He didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t offering my boobs up for a mauling every evening. He still slept through the night (yay!), and I didn’t even have any discomfort. It was a text book break from breastfeeding. But that was two months ago. That was before I picked up a cold that just wouldn’t go away, and before I started sliding into a deep depression.
So much for freedom.
Since I stopped breastfeeding, I’ve been down – seriously down. I’ve had spells of post natal depression in the past year, but this was something else. It was darker, heavier, and it was all encompassing. I was beginning to think I was losing it. And I was at my wits end, unable to shake off illness after illness. I didn’t have anything serious, and certainly wasn’t bed ridden, but it was enough to put me off attempting any exercise, and it made me feel lethargic – as if I was constantly operating at half strength.
My mood was also starting to impact my relationship. I could barely raise a smile at my husband, and I brushed off any attempts he made to get close to me. I could hardly look at him or hold a conversation with him, because I was receding into myself. I was utterly joyless, but hadn’t, in the remotest part of my brain, linked any of it with the end of breastfeeding.
As it happens, post-weaning depression is incredibly common. I only discovered its existence in a chance conversation with a friend who had been to the doctor about an ongoing cold. Her doctor told her that her illness was likely due to the fact that she had stopped breastfeeding a month ago. It was a lightbulb moment for both of us.
You see, when we stop feeding our babies, it’s not just the milk that dries up. It’s also the regular bursts of ‘happy hormones’ that we got each time we fed them. Our bodies go through another seisemic shift – rather like the one we went through when we first got pregnant – so it sends our moods and our immune system haywire. Add to that the return of your menstrual cycle, and you draw a card that leads straight to depression without passing go. It’s a lovely pat on the back for all your hard work, and I just didn’t know it was coming.
The thing is, once I knew what I was going through was normal, I instantly felt better. Instead of wallowing around feeling sorry for myself, I was able to pick myself up and get on with things. I’ve started exercising again, which releases my ‘happy hormones’ and makes a huge difference to my mood. I’ve swapped comfort foods for healthier options, so my immune system is starting to fight back. But most of all, I’ve realised that I’m normal. Post-weaning depression is common, and for me, knowing that is the biggest help of all.
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