When I weaned my first child, I did so kicking and screaming. He was on the boob for a long time — almost two years. However, I really wanted another baby, and my periods were all over the place depending on how much he nursed. Conceiving wasn't going to happen without weaning him. Because it was a gradual process, I thought I was home free from any negative weaning symptoms, but I was wrong. I was depressed, achy, and felt hungover. Some moms even report pregnancy, PMS-like symptoms, or even feeling pregnant after weaning. But what does it all mean?
As it turns out, weaning does a number on your body. According to a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, there is a sharp difference in the hormones in your body between the period of breastfeeding and weaning, and those hormones are responsible for many of the symptoms that arise upon the cessation of breastfeeding, and they can come on quickly. These symptoms are headache, depression, nausea, and an increase in perceived levels of bodily stress — all of which are also symptoms of early pregnancy.
The study noted, "Weaning is associated with hormonal changes due to involution of lactational physiological mechanisms. There is a well established association between fluctuations of reproductive hormones and mood, for example like those associated with the menstrual cycle or in postpartum depression."
Because you don't have enough on your plate as a (relatively) new mom.
When and how you wean is also apparently a factor. Women who are forced to wean early often report stronger associations with negative weaning symptoms than women who are able to breastfeed for as long as they choose, noted The Breastfeeding Review. While many of the reported symptoms were more in the way of depression, anyone who has suffered with antenatal depression will tell you how closely they relate the symptoms with pregnancy.
Something that might throw you for a loop during this time, and might be a reason why you're feeling pregnant after weaning, is that just the very act of weaning can disrupt your menstrual cycle, even if it had mostly evened out after giving birth, noted Steady Health. That means it can go from being a regular 28-day cycle to possibly missing a cycle or changing the duration of time between your periods.
This was true for me with my daughter. While I had mostly gone back to a normal 30-day cycle while she was nursing, the minute I weaned, not only did I skip a period, my periods came erratically for a few months afterwards. It took about four months to go back to normal.
It's important to understand that these symptoms are going to be different for everyone. Dr. Batya Grundland, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, told Today's Parent, “It’s like grief, it’s a loss. Your baby is growing up. Breastfeeding is a very particular bond and it represents a change in the relationship." And there might be more than just the base emotion of it, according to the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. The article found that "there appears to be a relationship between length of time of breastfeeding and a number of health-related variables for women who have already weaned. Among women who weaned, there was a significant negative association between length of time breastfeeding before weaning and perceived stress, psychological symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, and cognitive failure symptoms after weaning."
You read that right: cognitive failure symptoms. Mommy brain is back — at least temporarily. Depending on how long you breastfeed, these symptoms could be better or worse for you, and yes, many of them mimic pregnancy. It's frustrating AF, but at least it's temporary. However, if you really feel pregnant, it doesn't hurt to take the test. Who knows? You might be repeating this process again in another 18 months. Don't worry, this article will still be here when you need it then, too.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.