When my 21-month old began the weaning process, I learned as much as I could about breast health and other related issues so I would know what to expect. I found a lot of information about the potential for depression and guilt associated with the loss of nursing as a bonding ritual. I am not one prone to depression and this has been a very gradual (and child-led) process for us. And, as I thought, I’m experiencing nothing of this sort. What is completely surprising is my body’s hormone crash as my milk-producing system goes back to its natural state.
My initially confusing, very upsetting, but apparently common side effects include:
- Uncontrolled weeping (think PMS-AMPLIFIED–and for weeks rather than days)
- Heavy sense of despair
- Inability to cope
- Intense feelings of anger and frustration (this is VERY rare for me and was my wake up call that something was going on)
- Canker sores
- Numbness and tingling in the arms and shoulders
- Swollen lymph nodes in the back of my neck and head
- Ocular migraine
- Sweating and hot flashes alternating with chills, like a fever, usually at night, and probably responsible for much of the insomnia
- A low fever of about 99.8 degrees on and off, probably responsible for that heating and cooling fun I’ve had
- A rash, possibly heat rash related to the above few points
- Hip pain like in the last few weeks of pregnancy
Why is this not common knowledge? A little warning would have been helpful. I suspect that this is a time in motherhood that we’re not as carefully monitored as during our pregnancy and initial postpartum period. Is it that after the baby is born, latches well, and our body parts directly involved with delivery heal, everyone assumes you go back to normal? I have chronic hip pain and diastasis recti (abdominal separation) both related to my pregnancy. I know I’m not alone in this either but there isn’t a lot of information out there. However, I’ll save those for another post.
As for the weaning process, even the LeLeche League offers little or no detailed information about women’s hormonal changes. After much searching online, I found most information limited to discussion boards where women shared their experiences. There is no readily available “expert” advice. Here are some important things I learned, gathered from the voices of other women who have weathered this change:
- It can take 2-4 weeks or more for the body to completely regulate itself. If it goes on longer, your doctor will likely prescribe anti-depressant medication. I’m personally not thrilled with this solution but would do what it takes to feel normal again if it goes on long enough.
- The hormones involved are the same ones responsible for postpartum depression, prolactin and oxytocin, and, according to women unfortunate enough to experience both postpartum and weaning depression, the symptoms, feelings, and intensity are very similar.
- The symptoms can also be the same as those in early pregnancy and many women think, initially, that they’re pregnant.
- Other then the side effects I’m experiencing above, other women report nausea, vomiting, fatigue, acne, anxiety, and back pain.
For the next few weeks, it seems I’ll continue to weep at the slightest provocation and depend on the love and patience of my family. It seems to me there is a definite gap in women’s healthcare that overlooks the importance of the postpartum body’s continued healing, sometimes years after delivery.
What has your experience with weaning been? Where have you found information you’ve needed?