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My Name is Jen and I’m Addicted to Breastfeeding

March 21, 2011
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Sunday morning, I was just not right. My stomach twisted and turned, my heart raced, and my brain wouldn’t sit still for two seconds in a row. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t figure it out. It was like my usual pms-related anxiety was suddenly thrust into overdrive. I tried relaxing for a bit. I tried cooking. Exercise. Sex.

Masa gave me some space in the morning, allowing me a break from the family whirlwind. He was as glad for the one-on-one time, after his five days away, as I was for the quiet. He took Gus to the Y to splash around in the pool, and after lunch he put Gus down for his nap. Contrary to our routine up till now, Masa has been handling nap times this weekend as we gradually move toward weaning our now 21-month-old son from the breast.  We have now had three mornings and three weekend naps with zero nursing.

Could these two things be linked? The weaning and the anxiety? As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure they are.

Despite the relatively few articles that Google has been turning up on the subject, I just find it very hard to believe that the onset of anxiety and depressive feelings I’ve been experiencing has nothing at all to do with the fact that I’m nursing less these days. Here’s where I’m coming from:

First, there’s the mental struggle. The cries of my baby when I deny him the breast. The cries for mommy as daddy tries to get him down for a nap. Hearing him crying for me – or for what I’m denying him – takes those tightly wound heartstrings and yanks them hard. I feel both heartless for taking away this comfort, and weak for not being able to say no to my toddler without feeling ripped apart inside. But the basic truth is that I feel our last nursing session bearing down on me like a freight train. I am dreading an end to this relationship, and I know that it is causing me a moderate amount of anxiety and stress.

But I think there’s more to it. I’m beginning to really believe that there’s also a biological struggle going on inside me these days. Breastfeeding releases two hormones in the body – oxytocin and prolactin – and both of these hormones are strongly linked with feelings of calm, well-being, happiness and love. In fact, oxytocin is the body’s version of an opiate. In other words, perhaps weaning is like coming down off of a thrice-daily (or more) hit of heroine or oxycodone. Maybe not quite as powerful, I’m not hallucinating and jonesing to nurse or anything, but real just the same.

And I DO find myself really looking forward to our one last nursing session each evening at bedtime. I want to rush through the bedtime routine to get there. I feel more content in that glider than practically anywhere else on earth right now. I am sure part of it is that I realize these moments are numbered – a realization that never fails to bring tears to my eyes – but more and more, I think there is a biological component there and that a gradual weaning process is vital to both Gus’ AND my well-being.

What about you? Has anyone out there had this experience while weaning? Did you find that it dissipated quickly or did the funk hang around once the deed was done? I am very interested in hearing different experiences as I forge ahead into unknown territories.

And now, a picture of Gus, simply because I want to, and he’s crazy cute (I’m not modest. Not about him.)

my boy, chillin' on the slide, enjoying the view from up high. he takes his sweet time up there.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 2:06 pm

    I just happened to stumble across this and wanted to share that I was hit hard with post-partum anxiety when my son weaned at 23 months, and it came as a total shock. He self-weaned so gradually, and by the time he stopped he was down to once a night for hardly any time at all, so I assumed that the complete weaning wouldn’t really have any effect on me at all. Wrong! Even more difficult was that there was very little out there that I could find, or that my dr was aware of, that linked weaning with post-partum mental health issues. Probably because it’s not entirely common for women to nurse for close to 2 years (though I hope that is changing). Despite the lack of information out there, I was and am certain that it was the weaning that caused the PPA. I didn’t feel it was bad enough to pursue medical treatment, just worked through it and found that it gradually faded over the months until finally one day I realized it was gone.

    Hang in there!

    • March 24, 2011 2:16 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment! While I hate to think of anyone having to brave PPA, at any point, it helps so much to know that someone else out there has gone through this. It’s true that when you get to two years, the ocean of information that was available on breastfeeding in the early days has all but dried up. Like you say, hopefully that will change. Thanks again for sharing your experience and for your words of encouragement. – Jen

  2. amanda Koppen permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:05 pm

    I am feeling your pain, I am 40 next year and am still breastfeeding myh 16 month old but was told I have to wean her off to fall pregnant again and I am devastated. It makes me only want to have the one child and keep feeding her but I know I would regreat that. I have cut her feeds down to 2 but still am not ovulating , I wish there was anaother way but I have had heaps if doctors opinions and they all say I have to give it up to have anothe baby. SO I am feeling the sadness too and am very anxious and sad.

    • February 9, 2012 2:19 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a rough time. If it helps at all, I got through it and am currently enjoying developing a new nursing relationship with my second son (2 weeks old). Gus and I still have a lot of snuggles and a very special bond. I wish you the best!!

  3. amanda Koppen permalink
    February 28, 2012 4:39 pm

    Hi, Thank you for your email back and I am sorry about my late reply. Congratualtions on the birth of your son Gus how exciting. I cant wait to have another little bubba and to also give my daughter another sibling, she is so good with other people babies so I know she will make a great Big Sister…. If you are ever looking for ways to entertain and stimulate your little one, I have produced a DVD and CD called Blankey Time (www.blankeytime.com.au) that is designed for babies as young as 10 weeks old with song and movement. It will give you many years of fun,laughter and bonding time. xo I hope all is going well.

    • monllr permalink
      November 11, 2012 7:52 am

      Just read your post and have been experiencing some level of anxiety since weaning 8 months ago. Just wonderung how long before you felf ”normal” again.

  4. monllr permalink
    November 11, 2012 7:54 am

    Just fyi…..I did have hormone levels and thyroud checked and all was in the normal range.

  5. March 22, 2013 6:06 pm

    Hi, I was wondering if you could update us on how things are going now and how long it took you to feel normal again? I too, loved breastfeeding and fed my son until he was 19 months old. When I weaned I was hit with severe anxiety. So strange and I truly believe it’s caused by stopping breastfeeding. I stopped 2 months ago and do not want to go on medication. I have been using acupuncture, talking to a counsellor and doing my own recovery homework. I am anxious for this anxiety to go away (go figure!)

    • March 23, 2013 8:31 am

      Hi Carmen, sorry to hear that you’re going through this. I did write a follow up on weaning but I didn’t address this part in depth. The fact is, I cheated slightly I guess. I was actually pregnant again before I completely weaned my first. So my hormones were out of whack from that too. With both pregnancies I had a bit of antenatal anxiety/depression in the first trimester. I’m not sure how much was from weaning. I am not looking forward to going through this again when the time comes to wean my second. Best of luck to you. You’re certainly not alone!

      • momllr permalink
        March 23, 2013 7:10 pm

        I too experienced ppa after weaning my one year old. It was a very gradual weaning, however the ppa came out of know where and it took me a while to figure out it was my hormones. I too searched for everything on the internet and found bits and pieces about any formal research linking ppa and weaning. I had my thyroid and hormone levels checked and everything came back normal. However, I did not feel normal. It has been a year now since I quit nursing and I am feeling back to my old self! So be encouraged that you will feel like yourself again, but it does take time. Some tips that helped me….
        1) Get out….even if you don’t feel like it. The walls just close in and your mind needs to have a new setting!
        2) Talk about how you feel to someone you trust.
        3) Go do something that you usually enjoy doing even if you don’t feel like it.
        You will feel better!! Keep reminding yourself!

      • Jen permalink
        March 24, 2013 7:53 am

        Thank you for this! I’m glad to hear you’re getting back to yourself. I’ll definitely keep all of this in mind when the time comes to wean my younger.

  6. Bel permalink
    October 6, 2013 5:50 am

    I am so glad to have read yours and others experiences however they leave me a little scared.
    I have been pregnant and breastfeeding for almost 11 yrs!
    I have 4 children (my eldest is 10yrs and my youngest is 2.5yrs) and I breastfed my first daughter until she was 20 months and was 20 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. I then breastfed my second daughter until she was 24 months old and was about 7weeks pregnant with my 3rd daughter. With my third daughter I wanted to feed her until she was 2 also however I had a miscarriage around her 2nd birthday and continued to feed her until she was almost 26 months old. Breastfeeding her I guess comforted me. I also thought I should let my body rest so that i could fall pregnant again (we always wanted 4 children). However the week I feel pregnant with our 4th child was the same week I fed my 3rd child for the last time. Now my son, yes our 4th was a boy! Had his last feed about 1.5 weeks ago. I am not pregnant again. I don’t want to have anymore babies he was my last. But It has been soooooo hard and a really long process to wean him. He is 2.5 yrs old.
    So i completely understand the feelings of feeling almost addicted to the hormones i guess that have been controlling me for so long.
    I have also put on about 3 kgs in the last few months as we slowly dropped feeds. Our last feed that was the hardest for us to stop was the middle of the night settle feed. He was always happy for Daddy to take him to bed so the bedtime feed was a easy one to drop. But the late night cry our for Mummy was always easy to settle with a quick feed.
    I must admit that the last few months have been hard emotionally and days I did feel down and you are left with a feeling that something is missing. I hope the feelings don’t get worse but If they do I will talk to my Dr as im sure it will be some sort of a hormonal imbalance. But I also know the Dr want be able to help with the emotional addiction of breastfeeding that I have to let go of.

  7. Nadine permalink
    July 17, 2015 2:32 am

    Hi, have just found your post having googled ‘addicted to breast feeding’ cos I am wondering if I am…. Feeling SO anxious every morning but if I feed baby then feeling goes away considerably (not totally and comes back but the feeding definitely helps and makes me feel like I can cope with all the other stresses in my life…!). Anyway, my 17 month old daughter doesn’t usually want the morning feed now. Well, she goes on but doesn’t stay on very long and my let down in the morning is very slow (prob. due to stress and feeling anxious!) and now a days she can’t be bothered to wait I don’t think! Anyway, she doesn’t need it and so I should just stop but I can’t face stopping cos when it works it’s lovely and helps me feel like I’m coping. But at the same time when it doesn’t work I feel even worse!!! It’s a reflex so not sure how it’s ‘broken’ but I find myself worrying that it will never work again and so I’m worried about the next feed and so on… I feed her when she goes to bed and sometimes for afternoon nap. So feeling really rubbish can last all day and then sometimes now she doesn’t want the last thing feed and so then I feel REALLY terrible and don’t sleep…. Got myself in to a real pickle… Can’t face stopping, but not sure carrying on is doing me any favours either! My question to you is when you did stop completely how did you do it and how long did it take to feel OK again? I’m worried that stopping will just make me feel really bad for ages anyway! It’s very silly. I have 2 other children who I fed til 13 and 14 months and had no issues stopping with them but I have a definite problem this time!! Please help, am moving, working, organising Christening…. Close to a break down man!!?

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