When I weaned Bo once and for all she was just a few weeks shy of two years old. It was a battle of its own. It was sudden and difficult and I was totally unprepared for the hormonal roller-coaster that followed for the weeks after. We are now about seven weeks on, and it’s only now that I’m starting to feel more like myself and less like a stark raving lunatic.
Why is it that no one talks about this incredible hormonal imbalance that happens after we wean our babies? Why is there so much focus on when we “should” (don’t even get me started on the long term breastfeeding debate, it’s pretty obvious which side I stand on) but almost no attention paid to how to gently care for ourselves through what is an emotional and physical trauma all of it’s own. Why as mothers do we focus almost solely on the child and very little on our own well being? What are we for our children if we are not good to ourselves to? What are we teaching them in the long run… that sacrificial martyrdom is what is expected of us as parents? As women (or men)? As humans? That running ourselves into the ground is what is expected of us…
Is that really what we want for them? Is that really what we want for ourselves?
After about two weeks of feeling genuinely unstable after stopping breastfeeding, I booked myself into my trusted and much loved GP. I sat across from her in her office and I told her flat out… ‘I think I’m going insane,’ I said, with my head in my hands, ‘my emotions are all over the shop, I have no patience, I’m crying all the time, I’m up one minute and down the next… I can’t seem to get a grip on myself… I think I’m going insane.’
It was then for the very first time I finally began to understand the incredible toll that weaning takes on your body. The dip in hormones. For almost two years my body was being constantly fed loved up happy hormones oxytocin and prolactin and then all of a sudden I was cut off.It took some pretty serious self compassion to climb out of the hole I fell into… but there is a way out, and it’s both a confronting and beautiful climb.
Whilst your body does self regulate your hormone balance eventually… for a while you are treading water in an unfamiliar no mans land. It’s a pretty lonely and scary feeling, but rest assured, you are not alone. There are lots of things you can do to be kind to yourself and help to naturally inject a bit of that hormone love into your life while you wait for your body to catch up.
1. Exercise. At least 20 minutes a day of heart-raising, sweaty, serious excersise. It helps release all sorts of natural good-vibes hormones that will help bridge the gap while your body finds its way back to balance.
2. Eat good food. Your body is missing out on the love hormone oxytocin, protein is linked strongly to your bodies ability to create lots of this wonderful hormone so it really helps to up your intake. If you eat meat then red meat and fish high in fatty acids will help but if you’re not a big meat eater then eggs, brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, red kidney beans and avocado are a really good place to start. Snacking on high protein foods will help you even out those hormonal crashes during the day.
3. Stabilise your moods naturally. Vitamin B, C and Omega 3s are all really important to help stabilise your mood and tide you over – these can be found in all natural supplements and really help that temporary crazy feeling.
4. Create boundaries. If you don’t have any between work and life (like me)… get some. Turn the computer off. Stop working. Don’t answer the phone. Give yourself a break. Now. Stress and a lack of good vibes is a terrible combo and should be avoided. Just see this as an excellent excuse to be extra kind to yourself.
5. Relax. Use whatever relaxation techniques work best for you. I’m a big fan of Yoga Nidra… I like this one because it’s short and therefore it’s achievable for me on a day to day basis. Guided meditation and gentle yoga allows you to reconnect with your body and quiet your mind.
6. Take a break. Take some time for yourself outside of being a mother. It’s hard sometimes to let go of control, but it makes us all better parents. To step away, to do something just for ourselves, to take some time to remember who we are separate from that beautiful little creature and to get in touch with our own needs. Even if it’s just for an hour. It will help.
7. Self compassion. Be kind to yourself. Do things that make you happy. Allow yourself to feel crazy or shitty or sad or wild… recognise it, feel it, accept it and then cut yourself a break. If you don’t recognise that you are hurting, you can’t possibly give yourself the compassion you need to allow it. Treat yourself with the same kindness and concern that you would treat one of your best friends. Watch this and really listen to what Kristin Neff has to say on the matter. Believe me, you deserve it.
8. Phone a friend. Reach out. Talk to someone who loves you and understands you. Someone who will listen to you and really “hear” you. Remember that you are not alone. When we feel safe and comforted our body releases lots of natural oxytocin.
9. Get out in nature and get grounded. Getting connected to the ground is so important when you are feeling a bit lost in ourselves. Go dig your feet in the sand and tap into the deep earth energies. Remind yourself that you are a part of something big and powerful.
10. Hug someone. Get yourself some good old human touch. Hugs are scientifically recognised to release oxytocin, and are one of the best feel-good fixes out there. Hugs don’t have be sexual or come from a partner, they can come from a friend or a family member or a next door neighbour. If you don’t have someone to hug you, put your hand on your chest and release a bit of your tension through pressure against your own skin. Close your eyes and feel it. Sometimes I do this as an emotional release when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Touch is perhaps what we are missing most in our fast paced internet-driven world. We don’t touch each other enough, and we all need it. Let the good vibes roll.
PANDA is a service for pre and post natal depression and anxiety but is also a great resource for post weaning depression too. If you are suffering from weaning depression and you are feeling unstable do not hesitate to visit your doctor or naturopath for advice that suits your personal needs. There are people who will help you. You are not alone.
Connecting with other people has been my way out of the slump. Building self compassion allows for self protection when self esteem fails us. It takes time to learn to be compassionate to ourselves, but it’s the most powerful tool that we have to protect and care for ourselves and our children.