There are some things that come along with womanhood that, at the beginning and close of every chapter, like to stick around no matter the event. They are the dreaded hormones and they make their appearance at seemingly every major life turn as a female, whether it is your first period, postpartum, or menopause. But even though you know all about their inevitability, when you are ready to stop breastfeeding and seeking answers, you may be concerned. When do hormones go back to normal after weaning?
“If a woman is breastfeeding exclusively, most women will not get menses because the high prolactin levels needed to produce milk suppress ovarian function, therefore no periods," Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, an OB-GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper in an email interview. "As women decrease breastfeeding frequency — weaning — prolactin levels will drop. As prolactin levels drop, the ovarian function will begin and menses will return."
Initially, Ruiz says, this will cause a woman to experience breast engorgement because she is no longer feeding with the same level of frequency. This may last for several days until the breast hormone system regulates milk production. "As the ovaries begin to function and menses returns, they will begin to feel their cyclic changes associated with menstruation," Ruiz says. "Each woman has their own symptoms, whether it be breast tenderness, ovulation pain, or premenstrual uterine cramping.”
And don't be surprised if it takes a bit for everything to regulate once you are no longer breastfeeding. As Word Of Mom Blog at What To Expect wrote noted: "My periods/hormones have been a mess for the last two years. I had not had a normal period since before I became pregnant with my now almost 20-month-old son. I thought that things were starting to get back to normal after I weaned my toddler from breastfeeding nearly seven months ago, but things are still not the same."
Weaning can also lead to feelings of sadness, depression, and/or anxiety. After all, not only are your hormones all over the place, but no longer breastfeeding your little one brings with it the end of a rather significant era in your journey as a parent. For many moms, that can bring with it a lot of emotion. There are a few ways, however, to make the process more gradual. According to Kelly Mom, a quick weaning process can lead to a more abrupt shift in hormone levels, which may in turn cause harsher symptoms. "Dropping no more than one feeding per week is gentler on both mother and baby," the website suggested.
"When the weaning is swift, there can be a dramatic hormonal shift that can contribute to these symptoms," Leigh Anne O’Connor, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and parenting coach, tells Romper in an email interview. "There is also less oxytocin when one is not lactating, so that can contribute to fatigue."
But if "feelings of sadness or depression linger," then it's important to seek professional help, Dr. Batya Grundland, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, told Today's Parent.
Other symptoms that might accompany weaning include attachment issues, increased sex drive, anger, heart palpitations, irregular periods, and migraines. "Our bodies go from producing tons of milk to drying up, and the effects are much more than just physical," noted Baby Gaga. "The hormone changes will affect everything, from our breasts to our brains."
It's also important to keep in mind that moms and experts alike agree that babies have a natural instinct for this whole weaning thing. It was my own experience that the gradual weaning process made the transition that much easier for me and my daughter, which also meant less of a hormonal roller coaster. And I swear it was her who was calling the shots along the way — she knew when enough was enough. By the time we were done breastfeeding at 22 months, it seemed like she just woke up one day and it was all over.
And that's the thing — as hard as it is along the way, it really is over before we know it, which is truly a blessing and a curse wrapped in one.
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.