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Post-weaning depression: What to know

Post-weaning depression: What to know

Post-weaning depression is an unofficial phrase used to describe what some women experience when they stop lactation (breastfeeding or pumping).

Reviewed by:
Anastasia Ruiz, MD
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May 22, 2024
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Key takeaways

Becoming a parent is a big life change that comes with many exciting highs and challenging lows. If you’re a new mother, congratulations! We know this can be an exciting, yet stressful, time for many people.  

If you’re feeling down, you’re not alone. It’s common to experience intense mood swings and isolation during and after pregnancy. -due to - hormone changes from pregnancy, delivery, and lactation (breastfeeding or pumping), in addition to changes in sleep schedule, increased responsibility, less TLC time to self, and juggling multiple responsibilities. It is possible that woman experience another time sensitive period of hormonal changes when they stop lactation ( breastfeeding or pumping). Though not an official DSM-5 diagnosis, this is sometimes referred to as “post-weaning depression.”

In this article, we’ll discuss post-weaning depression, including how it differs from postpartum depression, how it’s identified, and tips for coping.

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What is post-weaning depression?  

Post-weaning depression is an unofficial phrase used to describe the depression that some women experience when they stop lactation (breastfeeding or pumping). The symptoms could be mild or moderate to severe, meeting criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD). Common symptoms could include loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, mood swings, changes in sleep, concentration, energy levels, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and negative thoughts .  

At this time, it’s not an official diagnosis, and many consider it a form of postpartum depression. At this time, it’s not an official diagnosis, and some may consider it a form of late-onset postpartum depression.

Whether your child outgrows breastfeeding or you’re making the decision to wean off of breastmilk, many women experience emotional and hormonal fluctuations during the transition. The change in mother-baby dynamic may leave you feeling a sense of loss you are not alone and this is a normal emotion.

In addition to the social adjustment, there is also a chemical component with  hormonal changes when mothers stop breastfeeding. When a mother stops lactation, prolactin and oxytocin levels (hormones that promote lactation and make breastfeeding possible) quickly drop to pre-pregnancy levels. During lactation, these feel-good hormones promote mood, calmness, and connection between you and your baby. In addition, estrogen and progesterone levels return to pre-pregnancy status with monthly fluctuation.

Some research indicates that post weaning depression has to do with a steroid synthesized in the brain called ALLO. The hormonal changes when weaning, and the return of menstruation, might affect the brain's receptors in a way that ALLO contributes to depressive symptoms instead of alleviating them, especially in women who are sensitive to hormonal changes.  

Postpartum depression vs post-weaning depression

Neither Postpartum depression (PPD) and post-weaning depression  are official DSM5 terminology, and officially, both forms of depression fall under the official diagnosis of major depressive disorder with the specifier of peripartum onset.  have overlapping symptoms.  

Postpartum depression typically sets in within six weeks to one year after giving birth. Post-weaning depression, on the other hand, typically  often begin when one decreases or stops lactation. One can experience postpartum depression that is further exacerbated by postweaning depression.

The good news is there is effective treatment. The best way to receive effective treatment is by working with a mental health professional and your doctor on a treatment plan that may include therapy and medication.

Not all postpartum mothers experience either form of depression. Some mothers actually feel a sense of normalcy with improvement of their mood, sleep, and energy, when they wean off lactation, This is a very individualized decision, and talking to a mental health professional can help one make the best decisions for themselves and their family.  

Related article: The baby blues: An overview of postpartum depression

Depression symptoms after breastfeeding

Post-weaning depression symptoms you may experience include:

  • Anger and frustration
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in previous interests or hobbies
  • Weepiness

How is it diagnosed?

The first step in treating post-weaning depression, or any type of depression, is getting a diagnosis. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression and think it may be related to weaning, talk to your healthcare provider right away. Your doctor or a mental health professional can discuss your symptoms with you and provide the correct diagnosis. Consider keeping a log of your symptoms leading up to your appointment to share with your doctor.

You have options when it comes to finding a mental health care provider. At Talkiatry, we’re here to answer your questions and help develop the right treatment plan for your symptoms. Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care—and you can schedule a first visit within days. Get started with a short online assessment.

6 Tips for coping with post-weaning depression

Post-weaning depression can be difficult to deal with and have a real impact on your day-to-day life and fulfillment. In addition to working with your healthcare provider, here are a few tips for healthy coping mechanisms.

1. Prioritize self-care

It’s important to prioritize yourself and your well-being during the transition to parenthood. Try to ensure you’re getting enough rest and taking time for yourself. We know this doesn’t always feel easy, but taking a few moments to yourself each day—even if they’re just to get yourself ready in the morning—makes a big difference in your mood.  

2. Get social support

During pregnancy and after you give birth, it can be helpful to lean on other new moms and loved ones for support and socialization. Whether you’re getting parenthood tips or simply catching up with your best friends, spending time with others helps you avoid isolation.  

3. Participate in enjoyable activities

Get out of the house and participate in fun activities whenever possible, even when staying home is tempting. Doing the things you used to love—like going to your favorite restaurant or playing board games with friends—will help you feel like yourself again.  

4. Work with a mental health professional

Therapy is a wonderful resource during any of life’s big transitions. A therapist can diagnose your symptoms and help you develop healthy coping mechanisms. Plus, talking to someone else about the big changes going on in your life often provides a sense of relief.  

Not sure where to start? Meet Talkiatry. We’re a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care—and you can schedule a first visit within days. Get started with a short online assessment.

5. Ask for help

When people say, ‘It takes a village,’ they mean it! Next time you feel overwhelmed or need time for some much-needed self-care, try asking for help. Ask friends or family to help with household chores, watching the baby, making food, or even grocery shopping. Your loved ones will happily support you through this big life transition. 

6. Have self-compassion

Above all, be kind to yourself. Adjusting to parenthood is exciting and life-changing—and it definitely comes with unexpected challenges, like post-weaning depression. Have patience for yourself as you work with your healthcare team, and learn what coping mechanisms work for you. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, you’re doing a great job.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

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For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

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At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

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Anastasia Ruiz, MD

Doctor Ruiz is a board-certified psychiatrist physician who specializes in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment in anxiety disorders, mood disorders, trauma and stressor related disorders, ADHD, and pregnancy related psychiatric conditions.

Dr. Ruiz received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, graduating from the Honors College with Magna Cum Laude. She later completed four-years of medical school at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and an additional four-years of psychiatric residency training. Dr. Ruiz has a diverse experience in psychiatry, including working in psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, IOP, PHP, emergency rooms, and academic teaching. Dr. Ruiz is up to date on literature and current treatment guidelines. She has authored research publications. She has received recognition and awards including the AWP International Fellowship Award and the ADMSEP Innovations Award.

Dr. Ruiz's practice focuses on a combination of medication management and therapy, as research demonstrates that this results in better outcomes.

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