Thursday, 8 March 2012

Depression And Hormone Imbalance Risks From Weaning And Drying Up Breastmilk

There is something I should mention about me. Ever since I was a very young girl I have suffered depression. I was seeing mental health workers at age nine, by eleven I was smashing windows and walls and cutting myself across my stomach, when I was 22 my housemate took me to psych care at the West End outpatient hospital because I was convinced I was hearing voices, I spent my entire teen years on anti-depressants and while I finished with meds at age 24 there have been two other times when I went back on them temporarily.

I am not currently depressed. I haven't been for a few years now, however when Hunter was about four months old there was a period of a few weeks where I really felt low. I stayed in my pyjamas, declined to visit friends, made excuses to stay home. I was exhausted permanently but would stay up to watch Hunter sleep, and cry because he was growing up so fast. When he smiled my heart would wrench. He has my top lip, which I never noticed as being exactly like my daddys top lip until I saw it on my son. Each cheeky grin made me see my Dad, and instantly I would wish more than anything that he could be here to see his grandson. I cried all the time, was super quick to get mad and had anxiety nightmares where my friends all stared at me blankly, and my husband left me and my son died or worse, grew old in a world filled with war and illness. I thought I might have had post-natal depression (PND), but by the time I conjured enough energy to see someone about it (about six weeks) I felt a bit better.  I never did see anyone about it, just talked with my mum and my husband and somehow made it through to happier days.

Today I was reading A Cup Of Jo and read her post entitled Motherhood Mondays: The Hardest Two Months Of My Life and had a realisation. My 'depression' coincided with my weaning. Apparently this isnt just a coincidence, but a real 'thing'. A hormonal thing, sure, but a real thing- not just a ghostly cloud casting a shadow of doubt and fear over my life but a real, tangible reason for the feelings.

I researched a bit (!) and found out this: While you are breastfeeding your body is chock-full of feel-good hormones such as Prolactin. Prolactin's primary influence on the body is to stimulates milk production, however its other effect is that it fills you up with tingly sweet feelings of well-being, calmness and relaxation. You could call it a boob based party drug (imagine if that were to take off in the nightclubbing district!).

Suppressing your milk production (weaning) also suppresses the Prolactin levels, accordingly a fast weaning process leaves you bereft of the prolactin high and feeling as wrecked as a drug comedown (affectionately referred to by the staff at the call centre I used to work in as 'Ekky Tuesday'. Bankers, hey- they seem so upstanding, but the call center is a den of inequity).

Where is the information on post-weaning depression? Certainly it was not in the glossy 'Breast Milk Is The Best Milk' brochures the midwives thrust at me as I left hospital. A bit of Googling brings back plenty of results on PND and the risk of mastitis and abscesses (both of which I unfortunately happen to know a bit about) but not much specifically advising weaning women of the possibility of depression if the process occurs too rapidly. I mean, there isn't much to say about it besides: It's hormonal; It's natural; It will go away soon; You are a good person and your baby loves you irrespective of whether you are breastfeeding or not; Be kind and gentle to yourself. Not particularly helpful for those deep in the belly of the beast, I guess, but that's all there is to it. Ride it out, all will be well soon. For those of you who like to discuss, check out Swistle's post on this very same topic, and the comments left by many a grateful woman - grateful to know that she is not alone, and that her feelings are valid.

You are not alone, and your feelings are valid.
Sandi D

1 comment:

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