Post-Breastfeeding Depression

I didn’t become depressed immediately following my daughter’s birth. And I wasn’t depressed in the many months that followed. I thought I was in the clear for PPD, but then all of a sudden I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I was waspish, I felt helpless to control my irritability, and I was angry. Really, really angry. As if I had a rage constantly bubbling beneath the surface and it was all I could do to contain it. The biggest red flag was one weekend when I was being particularly critical of my husband, and then watching my daughter play I began instructing her to play another way because I felt she was playing wrong. I reeled back at myself and I started researching PPD. This is what I found.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is temporary depression related to pregnancy and childbirth. It comes in two forms: early onset, commonly referred to as the “baby blues,” and late onset. The early onset type is mild and may affect as many as 80% of women after they deliver. It starts after delivery and usually resolves within a couple of weeks without medical treatment. The later onset form is what most people think of as postpartum depression. This more severe form is usually recognized several weeks after delivery. Overall, it affects about 10%-16% of women. –Web MD

Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. The cause is not known. Hormonal and physical changes after birth and the stress of caring for a new baby may play a role. Women who have had depression are at higher risk. –Medline Plus

Many new moms experience the “baby blues” after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings and crying spells that fade quickly. But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme form of postpartum depression known as postpartum psychosis develops after childbirth. –Mayo Clinic

Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a type of clinical depression which can affect women after childbirth. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability. –Wikipedia

Postpartum depression can begin any time during the first two months after you give birth. –Baby Center

Every website I found told me that PPD was something that happened immediately following childbirth, or within the first couple of months. So why on earth was I just starting to feel depressed now that my daughter is reaching one year? I broke down to my husband, told him how I was feeling, how awful I felt, and how hard I was trying to beat back these awful emotions rising inside of me. Once I’d had a good cry, we were able to talk through what could be causing these strange sudden mood swings. He suggested that I hadn’t been keeping up with my routine, that I was sleeping too much, but I told him how tired I was. This felt different from having the wrong sleep cycle, or even my past battles with insomnia. It felt like I was never rested no matter how long I slept. He suggested that I was having difficulty solidifying a new routine now that I had stopped breastfeeding and feeding Sisu whole foods was putting a lot of pressure on me.

And then it hit me like a brick. I had stopped breastfeeding. I immediately started researching ‘stopping breastfeeding and depression’ and the results flooded in. Huffington Post, The Stir, Kelly Mom, and blogs, blogs, and more blogs. It seemed like every type of website except the kind which instructed on medical information had some knowledge that ending breastfeeding could trigger depression. Reading through others experiences, I found phrases that were hard to swallow. They sounded just like me.

I wanted to lie down on the street and fall asleep. It was hard to keep moving…I felt guilty because I had a wonderful baby, a loving husband, and a great life on paper, yet I was inexplicably falling apart…I was quickly moved to tears…My self-esteem plummeted…Everything [my child] did seemed to piss me off, instead of just be cute and maybe annoying…I felt suffocated, like normal tasks were suddenly crashing in around me, boxing me in, taking my air, like water pouring from all sides. But I was apathetic and didn’t want to respond. I just wanted to do nothing at all. 

What happened? What caused this?

In early July I was on the mini-pill, which is prescribed to breastfeeding moms. I was prescribed the mini-pill during the cesarean surgery follow up, but I didn’t have use for it until March or so. Heads up breastfeeding moms-to-be: breastfeeding confuses your hormones like Mary at a Ball. Once on the mini-pill, it did not regulate my cycle. My OB tells me this is normal. In late July I had a period that didn’t stop for over a week, which is very unusual. I went to see my OB and she wasn’t surprised or alarmed. She informed me it’s quite common to have strange reactions to the mini-pill, and she didn’t personally seem to like the idea of the mini-pill much at all.  She instructed me to finish out my pack and wrote me a prescription for yaz, which I took through high school. She also told me to wean my daughter off of breastfeeding because she could not breastfeed while I was on the proper pill. So I filled my prescription and a weaning we went.

Sisu didn’t take long to wean from breastfeeding to cow’s milk. She was just shy of a year by the time we were making the swap, and it was mostly comfort and reassurance for her at this time. There was a small spike in her appetite, but that’s mellowed out since. She was completely weaned in less than two weeks.

Once she was weaned, I flipped through the information in my yaz package, not remembering if there was a day of the week start for yaz or if it was strictly at some point during your period, etc. and I came across an interesting section. It was a warning against using yaz if you have, or have ever had migraines. I contacted my OB, and she told me that no, I should not use yaz, and offered some other options for contraception that I didn’t think were viable at this stage in my life. They were just too long term.

As the days wore on, I just kept getting angrier and angrier. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I resented my daughter for having energy and joy. I resented my husband for showing me affection. I felt like a black pit where emotions went to fizzle and die. At the end of the week I laid into my husband like I never have. Not yelling, just picking and picking and nagging and nagging. It was awful. And I hated myself for it. After the above research, I found this blog: A Cup of Jo. You may have found this blog yourself if you follow any of the big mom blogs, because they all featured it. It spread like wild fire with a chorus of moms behind it saying quietly, but fiercely, “me too.”

I didn’t want to admit–even to myself–how lost I suddenly felt. It was disorienting and inexplicable, and I felt like it would never end. My sadness felt like my new way of being.”

If you have ever been depressed, to any degree, for any period of time, you know how very true the above can be. How horrifying. How suffocating. How terrible.

So I charge you to talk about it. Talk about it. If you find you are suddenly sad all the time, tell someone. Your spouse, friend, parent, worst enemy, someone. Depression is a two fold problem. You need help to identify it. You need a buddy to throw you a rope and say I am here for you. And once that rope is thrown, you must climb as though your life depends on it. I can tell you, from a good many feet away from my dark pit, that my life did. But at some point I talked about it. And then I couldn’t stop talking. And now that depression has snagged me again, and I have beat it again, I will not stop talking about it. Because people need to know. New mothers need to know. Care providers and family members of new mothers need to know. And we ought to change our care system accordingly.

I’ll remind you: My OB did not call me to check in and see that I was okay post-weaning. She did not suggest that I might have a bout of depression due to hormones when I weaned my daughter. She did not warn me that I would feel rage and emptiness while caring for my 11 month old daughter. I found solidarity in a blog. With a woman I have never met. A woman whose confidence in speaking about this issue is beautiful, and to whom I am very, very grateful.

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One thought on “Post-Breastfeeding Depression

  1. wow. me, too. this is exactly what happened when i weaned my 2nd. it didn’t happen after weaning my first, but it did after my second baby. i nursed my first for 13 months and my 2nd for 14 months, so not much difference. we hadn’t had a home PC for long at that point, so i wasn’t into blogs yet (2001), and all the medical research revealed the same things you found. in my heart i believed it was delayed ppd. i went to my ob, and he identified it as depression (but not specifically ppd) and put me on zoloft, which was exactly what i needed.

    i wish i’d had the confirmation that this was a delayed ppd and not me going crazy, but i am thankful for a doc who immediately identified it and gave me a med for it that worked.

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