While you were pregnant, hormonal fluctuations (aka: hourly mood swings) often preceded your body’s ever-changing landscape. But now that your baby is born, your emotions can finally calm down, right?
Just as the physical ups and downs will continue after your baby is born (why is my right boob twice the size of my left??), the emotional roller coaster might continue after delivery and during breastfeeding.
We present to you: oxytocin, the hardworking hormone that can make you sob at a chewing gum commercial, spend 20 minutes marveling at the baby’s toenails, and swoon over your husband despite the dried spit up on his face.
While you were pregnant, oxytocin was an important factor in everything from altering your metabolism at the beginning of your pregnancy to inducing your contractions during labor (gee, thanks). It also drove some of your relationship-related emotions, perhaps helping you feel more open with your family and more cautious of any potential dangers during your late stages of pregnancy.
Oxytocin continues to work its magic after labor, too, as it is responsible for stimulating milk flow each time you breastfeed.
Because of the typical association of oxytocin with warm, fuzzy feelings, some women are surprised when they don’t get that long awaited warm glow. But negative emotions following delivery are actually very common and oxytocin is also responsible.
If your body is sensitive to high levels of oxytocin, you may have an increased stress response to the oxytocin increases associated with breastfeeding. These increased stress levels combined with the overwhelming nature of having a newborn and sleep deprivation (a popular combo!) can result in anxious, irritated, or depressed moods.
Around 70-80% of women report having felt some negative emotions after giving birth. These negative mood swings, commonly referred to as “baby blues”, might appear around 4-5 days after delivery. However, these “baby blues” should not last for more than 14 days after delivery. If after two weeks, you are still experiencing these negative emotions, it could be a sign of postpartum depression, and you should discuss it with your doctor.
In rarer cases, some women might experience abrupt dysphoria just before milk let-down called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) that is associated with the sudden decrease in another hormone, dopamine, that occurs just before milk release.
While potentially disheartening, rest assured that negative emotions associated with breastfeeding do not mean that you are abnormal, unwomanly, or a bad mother.
We here at Moxxly wear many hats but doctor isn’t one of them. While being in community and talking to other women can be useful in coping with “baby blues” or temporary negative feelings/ mood swings, if you suspect that you may have postpartum depression, please contact your doctor.
Our advice? Remember that you are not alone. Read stories like this one written by some of the many other women who have gone through the emotional rollercoaster of breastfeeding. Reach out to other moms and talk to them honestly. They know better than anyone that breastfeeding doesn’t always feel so glow-y. We’re with you, Mama, you got this.