How Weaning Affects Your Body, Because It's Not As Simple As It Seems
When you have a baby and decide to nurse, it's a learning process to get into a routine that works both you and baby. You don't really have much control over what's happening — you just have to take the situation as it comes and go from there. When you decide to stop nursing, it's the same thing. Weaning sometimes is more drawn out than you planned it to be, or it happens all of a sudden, dictated completely by your baby. Either way, it's important to know how weaning affects your body, so you can be prepared for what's to come.
When you breastfeed, feel-good hormones (prolactin and oxytocin) course through your body, as noted by Parents. Weaning causes the levels of these hormones to drop, and sometimes, if you wean too quickly, the crash of hormones can leave you feeling less than stellar. Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), tells Romper, "When one weans, there are always hormonal shifts. And, when a baby weans slowly, these changes often go unnoticed." But, she continues, if the weaning is swift, the hormonal shift can cause feelings of discomfort, dread, or even postpartum depression-like symptoms.
In order to prevent a crash of hormones, weaning slowly is the recommended method, especially if you are deciding when to wean (babies typically self-wean sometime after their first birthday). Weaning slowly also allows your milk supply to reduce gradually, and prevents engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis.
You likely get a lot of unsolicited opinions and advice on your decision to breastfeed and, more than likely, you'll get the same amount of chatter when you decide to wean. People always love having something to say about your body and baby, but it's important to consider your needs as priority — not what someone else wants or thinks (including your partner). Breastfeeding is a huge undertaking, and when you decide to stop is your choice completely.
As Huffington Post mentioned, your feelings regarding weaning might be more complicated than expected. Having mixed emotions is totally normal, as is feeling pretty much ambivalent about weaning (as I was). It's OK to have a rollercoaster of emotions regarding weaning, but try to be clear about your decision and feelings, so you don't send your little one mixed signals.
When you're ready to wean, try to make a plan to reduce your nursing sessions gradually over a few weeks, or even months, as suggested by the Mayo Clinic. Going slow will allow your body (milk supply, hormones, and breasts), mind and emotions, and your baby to transition as smoothly as possible. If you do experience engorgement or painful breasts, cold compresses and acetaminophen can help to relieve some discomfort.
The hormonal dip you experience from weaning might leave you with the "weaning blues" for a few days after. Typically, this would only last a few days. If you notice a deeper anxiety or depression or anything that seems unlike yourself, don't hesitate to call your doctor and ask their advice. It's always better to know what's typical and what's something that requires greater attention.
In additional to hormonal changes, expect your body to change after weaning as well. As Psych Central noted, weight gain and breast changes are both typical post-nursing. While your milk dries up (it could take a couple of months) and your hormones drop, your breasts may look a little less full. This is largely temporary, and as your hormones regulate, you should regain some of the fatty tissue in your breasts (but they will likely look different than prior to nursing and pregnancy).
It takes time for both your body and mind to adjust after weaning, so try to give yourself that. Your body has done an amazing thing in breastfeeding, and you should allow it the time it takes to recover. Take the weaning process slowly and allow yourself space for all of your thoughts and feelings. Then, buy yourself some new bras and shirts and do something to celebrate your accomplishment. You deserve it.
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.