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It’s time to talk about post-weaning depression

I expected to be sad when I stopped breastfeeding. I didn't expect to go through this.

It’s time to talk about post-weaning depression

Soon after I stopped breastfeeding my last baby (okay, toddler—she was nearly three), my in-laws offered to take the kids overnight so my husband and I could enjoy some much-needed couple time. It happened to be the day of March for Our Lives, and I'd spent it trudging down the boulevard holding a sign, listening to stories from grieving parents who had lost children to gun violence. My kids were perfectly safe at my in-laws' house, but I wasn't used to being apart from them and my anxiety—always simmering just below the surface—boiled over.

Dinner and a movie with my husband were good distractions from my worries, but when we came home to a silent, dark house empty of children, it just felt wrong. I walked into my girls' room as if to check on them, but instead of seeing their sweet sleeping faces and hearing their gentle snores, there were empty beds. My heart pounded as a terrible feeling of doom came over me. I started to sob and couldn't catch my breath, ending up curled in a ball on the lower bunk, clutching my daughter's teddy bear.

What was wrong with me? Sure, I missed my kids, but this wasn't just melancholy. It was a full-on panic attack and not at all normal for me.

I suspected my state had something to do with the hormonal changes from recently weaning. Unfortunately, as much discussion about the challenges of breastfeeding and postpartum depression have entered the mainstream, there is still very little information available about post-weaning depression or anxiety. So little that it's not even an official diagnosis.

However, the practitioners I spoke with knew exactly what I was talking about.

So what is post-weaning depression?

"It's totally a real phenomenon," says Dr. Ellen Vora, MD, a holistic psychiatrist in New York who estimates that 60% of her breastfeeding patients experience 'blues' after weaning. "They feel sad, more anxious, more irritable."

That certainly sounded like me. Other symptoms can include tearfulness, hopelessness, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.

"I have definitely seen plenty of women get blues with weaning," says Dr. Jessica Schneider, MD, an OB-GYN in Los Angeles. "I have always assumed that most of it is hormonal," she explains, outlining several significant hormonal shifts that occur when breastfeeding stops. "As we wean, our prolactin levels go down, which may cause some depressive symptoms. Our estrogen levels go up, which is why we get our periods back, and the hormonal swings can cause mood symptoms."

There is also the loss of mood-boosting oxytocin, sometimes called the cuddle hormone, which keeps anxiety at bay. In a study published in Life Sciences, oxytocin was shown to relieve depression in mice and was even more effective than antidepressant medication. So, for some, it could be possible that stopping breastfeeding may feel like going off an antidepressant.

It appears that the onset of symptoms is typically two to three days after weaning, though there can be a delay. Since post-weaning depression isn't talked about much, women may be caught off guard by unexpected mood changes. After weaning, "the assumption is, 'I'll be free, I won't have to rush home anymore, it will be a relief,'" says Dr. Aarti Mehta, MD, a reproductive psychiatrist in Chicago. "So, when there is depression or anxiety, it's a surprise."

Are you at risk for post-weaning depression?

Post-weaning depression may be more likely when a mom is conflicted about ending the breastfeeding relationship. "Some women feel guilty that they aren't breastfeeding for longer. Or sad that the baby weaned before they had planned," Schneider says. "A few patients have told me that they really enjoyed nursing and because it was the last baby they were having, they were sad because they knew they weren't going to nurse again." (I fell into that last category, for sure.)

Women who experience mood swings during their period and/or experienced postpartum depression are more likely to be affected by weaning, Vora says.

Post-weaning depression prevention + treatment

Weaning abruptly can make hormonal changes more dramatic, so Mehta recommends tapering off slowly, such as dropping one feeding per week.

"Allow yourself to grieve properly," advises Vora. "Give yourself an afternoon to process it rather than moving on with your life."

In addition to talk therapy, Vora stresses the importance of self-care, including eating nutrient-rich foods, getting more sleep, and getting help with household chores through outsourcing. "Reallocate some funds toward getting groceries delivered, help with laundry, and help with drop-off and pick-up to take some of the burdens off of Mom."

The good news is that post-weaning depression generally only lasts a few weeks. If it continues, then there is probably more going on than just hormonal changes. "It's a call to action, to look under the hood" and get some help, Vora says.

If depressive symptoms persist longer than a week or two, Dr. Mehta sometimes prescribes a short-term course (around six to nine months) of antidepressants. Though she adds that only 1 to 3% of patients experience depression lasting long enough to warrant medication.

I was in that 1 to 3%. Having never been on antidepressants before, I was scared to try them, despite strong encouragement from my doctor. Would my personality change? My creativity? But as it turned out, all that changed was my fear and sadness. I only wish these solutions were apparent to me from the outset, or that I'd been educated about post-weaning depression before I'd suffered through it.

With a little help from SSRI's during a rocky time, I was finally able to be the mother I wanted to be. I was ready to move past breastfeeding and embrace my kids' newfound independence — though I continue to hug them way more than necessary.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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