Support Is Essential During This Often Neglected Transition

Being a mother is a precious gift, but can also be a roller-coaster of ups and downs.

Pregnancy, childbirth, the first days home with a newborn – these can all bring about immense physical and emotional challenges.

There is a lot of advice out there for new parents, but there is one phase in the journey of motherhood that doesn’t seem to receive much discussion, despite its importance for both mom and baby.

Breastfeeding is yet another miraculous function of our bodies, enabling us to nourish our little ones in the best and most natural way, but we don’t often hear much about the challenges that come with weaning.

Romper.com reported:

Weaning creates emotional, hormonal, and physical changes in women, yet this big transition is often treated as an afterthought.

To understand how weaning affects your brain, first you need to know about the hormonal and mental changes caused by breastfeeding. “While a woman is breastfeeding, prolactin (which is responsible for milk production) is high, and this suppresses levels of estradiol (AKA estrogen) and progesterone,” says [Pediatric Endocrinologist] Hart-Unger.

“Some say there is a calming effect from the combination of high prolactin and low progesterone.” Another factor in the “blissed out” feeling some breastfeeding mothers experience is oxytocin, commonly called the bonding hormone, which triggers milk let-down in response to a baby’s sucking.

In addition to physical changes, there may also be feelings of sadness due to losing the close bond that occurs between mother and child while nursing – and these hormonal changes can even lead to more serious depression and anxiety.

On one hand, mom may be ready to wean because it will allow others to help more with feedings and free up some time in her busy day.

On the other hand, mom may experience feelings of an “ending” of sorts when weaning.  Nursing is a special time that only mom and baby share together, so losing that special time can be difficult.

Kellymom.com reported:

The faster the weaning process the more abrupt the shift in hormone levels, and the more likely that you will experience adverse effects. Dropping no more than one feeding per week is gentler on both mother and baby. Mothers who are forced to wean before they are ready (or for reasons beyond their control) and mothers with a history of depression are also more likely to experience depression after weaning.

Even for mothers who feel ready for weaning and wean gradually, there may still be some sense of loss and sadness. Weaning marks the end of a physical oneness with your child, the close of a very special period in your lives. Remember that your child’s strong need for your presence continues, even if it is now expressed in other ways.

Most people close to mom will recognize the need for support in the early weeks after baby comes home, but many do not think about the need for mom and baby to have additional support during the weaning process.

In addition to watching for signs of depression in a weaning mother, a little one may also have a difficult time adjusting to the loss of something so intertwined with feelings of security.

Breastfeeding is primarily about nutrition in the early months of an infant’s life, but babies and toddlers who nurse longer often become dependent on the comfort and security nursing provides.

It is important for mom and baby to continue the physical contact that nursing provided during the weaning process – lots of cuddles and soothing will benefit both mom and little one during the process.

And especially when a child has nursed for an extended period — for example, well into their second year — there may be additional challenges to weaning from the child’s perspective.

BellyBelly shares some tips on how to help:

Be Honest: Children can often understand more than they can say, so don’t assume your child is too young for a conversation about weaning. Start talking about weaning, and how one day he will not need breast milk anymore.

Look Out For Red Flags: Some children wean easily and without fuss, for others it can be a more difficult journey. Look out for sudden changes in your child’s behavior, for example sudden clinginess, tantrums, and anger. These behavioral changes are often your child’s way of expressing inner feelings. If you think your child is struggling to adjust, then take a step back, and try again in a few weeks’ time.

Remember, moms, while weaning may be the end of one phase of motherhood, there are plenty of wonderful bonding moments ahead!

It simply means your little one is growing up, and as hard as that can be on us sometimes, it is what they are meant to do.

Don’t be afraid to let family and friends know if you need a little extra TLC when you are weaning.  And if you are experiencing true feelings of depression, it is best to consult a trusted physician.

Do you want to learn more of the amazing science behind being a mom?  Mommy Underground recently brought you some other great facts and will keep you up to date on all the latest studies.

Did you find that you faced either physical or emotional challenges when weaning your little one?  Do you have advice or tips that helped you (and baby) make the transition a smooth one?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

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