How Do Your Hormones Change After Weaning?

weaning your baby

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

The postpartum period is chock full of hormones. Not only is your body adjusting to not being pregnant anymore, it’s revving up to produce breast milk to feed your new baby.

Within the first few days after giving birth, your pregnancy-high levels of estrogen and progesterone plummet while your prolactin levels surge—first making colostrum and then milk.

Eventually this storm of hormones evens out and the intense emotions you’ve experienced, like whiplash-inducing mood swings, pure elation, and sudden crying spells begin to even out, too. 

But if you think that means you’re done with the extreme highs and lows of breastfeeding, think again: you still have to wean your baby at some point, and that’s not without its hormonal challenges.

What Changes With Weaning?

Two things start dropping the minute you begin the weaning process: prolactin and oxytocin. You've learned that prolactin is the hormone responsible for making your breast milk, so once you start sending the message to your body that milk is no longer needed (or, at least, not in the same quantities), your body starts producing less of it.

But prolactin also triggers your body to release oxytocin, which isn’t called the “feel good” hormone for nothing. You know how happy and contented you feel while your little nursling is attached to your chest, drinking their fill of your breast milk? Most of those feelings of closeness and intimacy are fueled by your body’s release of oxytocin—and when prolactin drops due to weaning, it does, too.

It’s also worth noting that prolactin suppresses ovulation and, often, prevents you from getting your period if you continue to exclusively breastfeed. So when prolactin begins to drop, ovarian function increases again, bringing with it the normal waves of estrogen and progesterone that happen when you get your period. 

What You Might Feel During Weaning 

No two women will have the exact same symptoms during and after weaning, but it can often cause similar side effects. During the weaning process, you might experience:

  • Engorgement: Just like in the old days—when your baby would unexpectedly sleep through a feeding and you thought your breasts were going to explode—reducing your number of feedings can cause your breasts to become swollen or engorged. But they should adapt relatively quickly, usually in two or three days, to the new demand for milk.
  • Sadness: Maybe your baby isn’t a baby anymore, maybe you’re getting ready to go back to work, maybe breastfeeding just isn’t right for you at this time in your life. Whatever the reason, things are changing and letting go of the nursing relationship with your child can be painful. 
  • Weight gain: Your body uses a lot of calories to produce breast milk, so you may have been able to eat more during breastfeeding without facing any consequences. Once you stop expending those calories, you may notice the weight adding up more easily.
  • Anxiety: Women’s hormones are tied to their stress levels and their mental health, so if you’re the type to get anxious before or during menstruation, you may also notice heightened feelings of anxiety during the weaning process.
  • Low sex drive: Changing hormones and less-than-pleasant emotional swings can make it hard to get in the mood with your spouse or partner. You can also blame the drop in oxytocin, which may have left you feeling friskier than usual during breastfeeding, for your lack of interest in sex.
  • Relief: Even if you loved every minute of breastfeeding, it’s a commitment. It’s okay to feel a sense of relief that your body fully belongs to you again—that you can eat and drink what you want, leave your child for hours at a time with another caregiver, and stop worrying about whether your tops have nursing-friendly features for easy access. 
  • Guilt: You provided for your baby for weeks or months, helping them grow and forming a close bond. It’s only natural to feel some guilt that this relationship is ending, especially if you’re the one deciding it's time to wean. (No judgment—you have every right to make the call! But some moms choose to breastfeed until their child decides it’s time to stop and they may not feel guilty when the time comes to wean.)

How Long Before You Feel Normal Again?

Unfortunately, there’s no specific timeline for getting back to your old hormonal self again. The length of time it takes for your body to readjust to its new calibration depends on your unique reproductive system, how quickly you wean, and how much support you have at home.

In general, the faster or more abruptly you wean, the sooner things will go back to normal (although this kind of weaning can also cause you to experience more severe weaning symptoms, so it’s not exactly a win-win). Weaning gradually over a period of time will be easier on you on a day-to-day basis, but will obviously prolong the whole getting back to normal thing.

Your body probably needs about two or three months, on average, to return to its normal hormone levels. At that point, you might start noticing less weaning symptoms and also the return of your period! However, it’s not abnormal for the process to take more or less time than that.

How To Cope

You may not be expecting the mental and emotional changes brought on by weaning, but if you make a plan to cope with them in advance, you might ease more smoothly into the transition. Either way, there are things you can do to cope with these major shifts in hormones.

Wean Slowly and Gradually

The speed at which your hormones change during weaning parallels the speed of the weaning process itself. In other words, the hormonal changes will be slower—and easier to manage—if you wean your baby slowly, over time, by dropping one or two feedings a week (instead of stopping cold turkey).

Find Other Comforting Ways To Bond With Your Child

Cuddle them a lot and choose a special activity for you to do every day with your child in place of your usual breastfeeding session or sessions. This will allow you to still feel close and connected on a regular basis.

Take Care of Your Physical Health  

Try to avoid stress, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly to keep all of your other body systems in check while your reproductive system sorts itself out. 

Take Care of Your Mental Health  

Know that you may have some pretty intense emotions and difficult days during the weaning process.

Find a trusted friend or family member who can be a listening ear, inform your partner or spouse that you may need some extra support and understanding, and don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a mental health professional to help you through the transition.

What To Do If You’re Still Struggling

Just like the postpartum period can lead to extreme feelings of anxiety and depression, so can weaning. Symptoms of post-weaning depression look similar to postpartum depression; abrupt hormone changes bring on feelings of intense sadness and hopelessness, anxiety and panic, irritability, insomnia and—in the case of post-weaning depression specifically—a deep sense of loss and grief.

If you’re feeling depressed for more than a few weeks after weaning or think your post-weaning blues are more than just temporary feelings of sadness, it’s important to take them seriously.

Though post-weaning depression usually passes once your body returns to its normal hormone levels, a licensed mental health professional can help you cope with your depression until you feel more like yourself again.

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