Geranium seeds

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Post-Lactation Depression?!

on January 15, 2012

Bringing Lucas home for the first time

Warning: this blog is about to get extremely personal.

I apologize to my male readers for the rather feminine subject. But, keep reading… maybe it will help you understand your sister, wife, friend… ūüôā

I did not experience post-partum depression. Sure, that first night after we brought Lucas home from the hospital, I was a tearful mess. But, soon enough I was back to my normal self (albeit sleep deprived). In a way, I felt like I had dodged the bullet when I didn’t present the PPD symptoms I had read about or heard from friends. So, imagine my surprise when very recently I started feeling like I had fallen off the deep end: irritable, tearful, exhausted, and just plain weird. At first I thought I was having a major case of PMS, but it just didn’t let up and seemed to be getting worse. After talking with friends, consulting with my doctor, and (of course) googling like crazy, I think I know what has been wrong with me: post-lactation depression. Yes, people, I swear this exists, although it is not a “real” medical condition.

Here’s my whole confessional story:

It was important to me to breastfeed Lucas his first year of life. When he completed 12 months, I stopped pumping and introduced whole milk during the day. Eventually I did away with the morning nursing session and gradually decreased the amount he nursed at bedtime. When he was a little over 14 mos. (almost two months ago), I stopped breastfeeding altogether. It was a very gradual and natural process, and there was very little change to our bedtime ritual or relationship. I was happy to have breastfed and happy to have stopped when I did. Mission accomplished, and I thought everything was just peachy.

Except that, about 3 months ago I started having night sweats (which I had never had before). Then, a few weeks ago I started feeling extremely tired and irritable. One some days I even had crying spells.¬†I thought maybe something was wrong with my thyroid or that I was somehow hormonally off. It definitely fet like a physiological thing. There was no¬†apparent reason for the changes in my mood or energy level. I’m all for talk therapy, but the kind of feelings I was having seemed to call for a different kind of therapy. The symptoms were not exactly severe, but enough to be bothersome — and bothersome enough that I did not feel like myself.

While out for a run with a girlfriend, she helped me make the connection for the first time between my symptoms and the fact that I had just stopped breastfeeding. I still thought something else might be wrong, so I went to my doctor to have my hormone levels and thyroid functioning checked. Everything checked out OK, and my doc agreed that the symptoms might be related to weaning Lucas. He said that maybe my body was simply adjusting to this change.

What has been really frustrating is that I had no warning that my body might respond this way. There is no mention of this in my breastfeeding book — just a brief paragraph stating that women might feel some sadness about ending the breastfeeding relationship. I consulted other breastfeeding books in the bookstore and found no more information. In fact, another book said that the weaning effects on the mother — especially if done gradually — are “minimal.” So off to the internet I went, and found no more information from reputable medical websites. This is frustrating to someone like me who deals with stressful situations by gathering as much information as I can.

Luckily, I found plenty of anecdotal information from other women who described having had very¬†similar symptoms after they stopped breastfeeding. They all described it as I had: feeling as if this were PMS on steroids. Some women called it “post-lactation depression,” which I thought was pretty clever. Others suggested that weaning might prompt a late-onset of PPD in some. This I guess is controversial, since most medical websites I searched stated that PPD happens within the first year post-partum.

At any rate, it does seem like there is something to this. And here we finally get to my happy ending. In one helpful entry from askmoxie.org, I found several suggestions for dealing with this. The author of the blog suggested a “trifecta” of daily massage, exercise, and Omega 3 supplementation. Several of her readers left comments with further suggestions, one of them being to supplement with a B-vitamin complex. I was already taking Omega 3s (I take a fish oil capsule at night) and exercising, and taking B vitamins seemed easy enough. It also made sense to me that it might help, at least with my energy level. (Here is the thread if you want to check it out for yourself.)

Lo and behold, that has made all the difference for me! I started feeling much, much better (pretty much back to my regular self) after the very first day of taking it. You might call it a placebo effect. But I don’t think so. First, I really didn’t expect it to help that quickly. Second, I didn’t expect the B vitamins to help with ALL my symptoms. People, not only is my mood back to normal, but my night sweats have stopped as well. It turns out B vitamins help synthetize and balance hormones (which I didn’t know).

I must also say that, before taking the vitamins, relaxation exercises and easy listening music also helped (for me, that meant the Frank Sinatra station on my satellite radio). And definitely talking about it — with my husband, girlfriend, sister, and doctor. I bet a lot of women under-report these symptoms to their doctors. Maybe there would be much more information out there if more of us actually discussed this with our docs.

Has this happened to anyone else out there? What has helped you?
If you are going through something similar to this right now, let me encourage you to discuss this with your doctor before diagnosing yourself with “post-lactation depression”¬†or trying anything out. But definitely talk about it with someone. And good luck!

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4 responses to “Post-Lactation Depression?!

  1. Kirk Hall says:

    Hats off to you , Alice for over a year of breastfeeding. We ( actually my wife) did a year with both of ours. Keep sharing your wisdom.

  2. miq says:

    I have never heard of this. I’m not quite ready to stop breast feeding my babe, but hopefully I remember this article and the information when I do stop.

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