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Most mothers enjoy the unique experience of breastfeeding. It comes with its share of hard work, but it is totally worth it. Weaning is a process where the mother gradually shifts the baby from breastfeeding to other sources of food. Often child-led weaning means that the mother continues feeding the baby until the baby no longer desires breast milk. This can extend beyond 24 months and varies from baby to baby. Some mothers choose to wean earlier due to a range of reasons.
Are There Any Side Effects of Stopping Breastfeeding?
Notwithstanding the reason, weaning can present side effects for both the mother and the baby. All mothers experience some discomfort, along with other effects when they stop breastfeeding. The reduced levels of prolactin and oxytocin cause hormonal changes, which can also lead to physical pain. Here, we discuss a few of the effects of quitting breastfeeding.
Effects on the Mother
There are many weaning related side effects on the mother. Discussed below are some of the side-effects of weaning.
1. Mastitis and Clogged Ducts
A plugged duct can cause extreme tenderness in the breast that is fairly localised. If it remains untreated, it can cause mastitis, a breast infection that causes severe pain, fever, and redness. The breast becomes tender and warm to the touch. Mastitis can be treated by using warming pads, expressing the milk, and a dose of antibiotics.
2. Fullness of the Breasts
Weaning can be the cause of a feeling of fullness of the breasts. Breasts become painful and heavy because of the collection of milk. Expressing milk can reduce this feeling of fullness.
3. Physical Illness
Some problems that appear after stopping breastfeeding include headaches, nausea, and mood swings. These can be the effect of hormonal changes that are a result of stopping breastfeeding. Sometimes these problems mimic early pregnancy symptoms. Consult your doctor before you decide to wean.
4. Increase in Fertility
The hormones secreted in the body during breastfeeding reduce the chances of ovulation; these hormones change when the mother stops breastfeeding. The mother may have her period within six weeks of weaning, meaning that ovulation has begun once again.
5. Depression Post-Weaning
Weaning effects on mothers include mild to severe depression. This is associated with hormonal changes in the body when the infant stops suckling, or milk is no longer being expressed. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation, can also create a feeling of calmness and joy for the mother. With the reduction in prolactin levels, the mother may begin feeling sad, and she may associate this sadness with the end of the bond between her and her baby. Not every mother experiences depression, however, you must seek help from a medical practitioner if you feel depressed.
6. Extreme Fatigue and Tiredness
The progesterone and estrogen levels in the mother’s body try to rebalance after weaning, and this causes extreme tiredness and fatigue. Discontinuing breastfeeding may not reverse normal sleeping patterns, inducing further fatigue in mothers.
7. The Feeling of Shame About Eating
When nursing, mothers are advised to consume sufficient calories to sustain breastfeeding. Women usually eat a lot while feeding without gaining weight. When a mother decides to wean, she may find it challenging to cut down the food intake as it is habitual. It may make some mothers feel guilty about eating more during mealtime. Depression caused by hormonal changes makes this feeling more pronounced for some mothers.
8. Issues of Attachment with the Infant
Reduced oxytocin levels, and subsequently, bonding makes some mothers feel a slight estrangement from their children. The mother may also feel less proficient at soothing the child without breastfeeding. Finding other ways to bond, like playing together, cuddling during sleep time, etc. can help the mother and the baby bond better.
9. Palpitations and Anxiety
Anxiety may surface in plenty of ways, such as the mom being too snappy, worrying and overthinking, dreading the little things that shouldn’t matter, and so on. This feeling of anxiety can be accompanied by palpitations.
Some mothers find it hard to get a good night’s sleep even though feeding is no longer required through the night.
11. Skin Changes
Weaning an infant can bring in a lot of changes in the skin due to a surge in hormones. Dryness, acne, stretch marks, and other breakouts are common when breastfeeding is stopped.
12. Increased Stress for the Mother
The inability to comfort the baby or the anxiety, sore breasts, and headaches may increase levels of stress in some mothers.
Effects on the Baby
Babies, too, can face some problems when breastfeeding is stopped. Here is what happens with the infants:
- The risk of infection increases as breast milk contains antibodies that fight off infections, which the baby is no longer consuming.
- The nutritional advantage of breast milk is lost, and dependency on external nutrition increases. This may be a problem if the baby doesn’t take to formula or solid food easily.
Tips to Stop Breastfeeding
- Instead of stopping breastfeeding suddenly, mothers should gradually stop breastfeeding by reducing the number of breastfeeding sessions over a few weeks.
- Another useful tip is to shorten the length of each breastfeeding session. For instance, if your baby is used to breastfeeding for fifteen minutes, try reducing the feeding time to ten minutes.
- Mothers can also combine breastfeeding with formula milk by replacing one of the baby’s breastfeeding session with a bottle of formula milk.
Speaking to a lactation consultant before weaning your infant will aid in fighting the effects of weaning. Ice packs, warming pads, sage tea, and a good bra will go a long way in the prevention of engorgement and mastitis. Whatever the reason for weaning, listen to your body and do not feel pressured by unsolicited advice. As the mother of the infant, you should be free to decide what is best for you and your baby.
Also Read: Tips to Stop Breast Milk Production