May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Co-Founder of aLoo, Aarti Mehta MD, is a Psychiatrist who focuses on Women’s Mental Health. We thought this would be the perfect time to talk about how breastfeeding might affect a woman’s mood.
When a woman gives birth, she is already susceptible to mood swings, depression or anxiety. This is because a woman experiences a rapid shift in hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone once the baby is delivered. This hormonal fluctuation, in addition to significant changes in sleep patterns, as well as adjusting to a new way of life, leaves a woman vulnerable to a decline in mood.
But, biology is amazing. Coinciding with this decrease in hormones comes an INCREASE a very important hormone called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the “feel good” hormone. When released, we feel as sense of closeness to others, as well as affection. When we hug each other, we release oxytocin. Breastfeeding results in a significant release of oxytocin, typically leaving a mom feeing relaxed and very emotionally connected to her baby.
An interesting phenomenon that is gaining some attention, is that when a mother weans her baby from breast milk, she can have a surge of anxiety or depression. Weaning is a complicated emotional time as it is. There is sometimes guilt involved, if milk production has gone down or mom is returning to work, or mom may worry that she will not be bonding as well with baby. In addition to this emotional change, there is no longer a release of oxytocin to decrease mom’s anxiety.
If a woman does feel an emotional decline at this time, it is often unexpected, as she is likely months out from her delivery date and likely adjusted to her new way of life. For some women, this anxiety or sadness may pass. But for others, it may continue or worsen. Therefore, it is important to consider that weaning may have an impact on mood for mothers, and if so, it is important to contact one’s physician to discuss further.