Health

How the Brain and Body Change When You Stop Breastfeeding

Bodies, brains, and libidos all change when people stop breastfeeding, but supportive partners and a fridge full of cabbage can help.

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close up shot of a woman breastfeeding a newborn baby

Parents stop breastfeeding for many reasons, including the nuisance of pumping at work, children struggling to latch, or a kid being old enough to ask for “noonies.” But deciding when to stop breastfeeding is as much an emotional and personal experience as deciding to breastfeed in the first place. Although the breastfeeding journey has physical, psychological, and emotional effects, so too does stopping breastfeeding. Which means parents should expect things to get a little weird, and dads should be ready to step in and support their partner.

What Happens When You Stop Breastfeeding

The effects of ending breastfeeding depends on how quickly you do it. “If a woman abruptly stops breastfeeding, she will likely deal with breast engorgement in the first few days,” says Olivia Anderson, R.N., a nurse and mother of two in Michigan. “If you slowly wean over time, your breasts will lose the fullness they experienced while breastfeeding and will change shape a bit.” Leaking is also common with going cold turkey.

Mother of two Candice de Beer says she experienced a change in breast shape after she stopped breastfeeding. In fact, she needed to buy entirely different bras. “The base of my boob is broader, while the top has lost all fullness. I need a bra that has a wider base, otherwise I look like I’m spilling out of the sides of the bra,” de Beer says.

Since breastfeeding burns so many calories, when Amber Nash stopped breastfeeding her two children, she found it much easier to put on weight — an expected outcome of the hormonal shifts associated with pregnancy, breastfeeding, and weaning stages.

And because of the decline in bonding hormones like oxytocin after she stopped breastfeeding, Nash recalls her baby fever going away entirely. “I had pretty much constant baby fever while breastfeeding,” she says. “I don’t know if it was the breastfeeding hormones or the act of bonding with my baby several times a day. But now that I’m no longer breastfeeding, my desire to procreate is practically nonexistent.”

All three moms were able to stave off extra sagging and discomfort with some lifestyle adjustments and home remedies. These include increasing exercise, changing diet, buying more supportive bras, adding collagen powder to their water, and interestingly, using cabbage as a cold compress, which can also decrease extra milk supply.

How Hormones Change When You Stop Breastfeeding

Depending on whether a person stops breastfeeding gradually or abruptly, hormones should return to pre-pregnancy levels within six to eight weeks. The body generally returns to normal once regular periods resume, says Angela Jones, M.D., an OB-GYN based in New Jersey.

But declines in oxytocin and prolactin can leave some mothers sad and anxious as their physical symptoms lessen. “It can be downright depressing for some women,” Jones says. Luckily, this development is temporary, and a patient and supportive partner can help a lot during the process.

On the upside, once hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels, sex may begin to feel more enjoyable. “Breastfeeding tends to keep the vagina in a low-estrogen state, so not only will their vaginas feel better when they stop, but sex will too,” Jones says.

That can be great news after a post-baby dry spell. But it’s important to note that regular ovulation resumes during this time as well, making it a lot easier to get pregnant again. For couples who are not looking to get right back on the baby roller coaster, it’s important to take the proper precautions.

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