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Home > Learn > Postpartum > >Breastfeeding Hormones and Symptoms of Weaning

Breastfeeding Hormones and Symptoms of Weaning

Jan 10, 24 7 min

By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton, OBGYN

Hormones play a vital role in nearly all of our bodily functions. This is especially true when it comes to reproductive health, from trying to conceive to the postpartum period. We often hear about the physical demands of breastfeeding, like feeding schedules, sore breasts, and chapped nipples, but the emotional and physical tolls of weaning are sometimes left out of the conversation. Let's talk about the shift in hormones when you stop breastfeeding, and what symptoms you may experience. 

Breastfeeding Hormones

Two key hormones that play an important role in milk production and milk letdown are prolactin and oxytocin. [1] Prolactin is necessary for milk production in the breast. In fact, the increase in prolactin during pregnancy is what stimulates the growth and development of the mammary tissue as the body prepares for breastfeeding. [1] Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for the let-down reflex. When oxytocin is released during breastfeeding, the milk that has collected in the breast will flow or eject. [1] Oxytocin is released when a baby suckles on the breast, or even when the breastfeeding person is preparing to nurse, or even touches, sees, smells, or hears their child. [1] 

When To Stop Breastfeeding

Weaning, or stopping breastfeeding, is the process of switching an infant’s diet from breast milk to other foods and fluids. Some people may choose to stop breastfeeding simply due to personal choice, and some may need to wean due to health or scheduling concerns. [2] Whatever the case, it is a process that should be taken seriously. Many public health organizations recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months and continuing to nurse for about two years as other foods are introduced. [3] If this isn’t feasible for you, that’s okay, just make sure you supplement your infant’s diet adequately with formula or other foods, as recommended by a provider. You can learn more about when and how to wean from breastfeeding here. 

Hormone Changes After Stopping Breastfeeding

When you do stop or slow down breastfeeding, the hormones prolactin and oxytocin will also begin to drop. [1] As a result of these hormones fluctuating, your body will also begin to increase production of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones. [4] 

Common Physical and Emotional Changes

With a change in hormones comes many physical and emotional changes. Keep in mind that the symptoms that come with weaning can vary from person to person, so don’t be concerned if your experience is different from what you see here. If you have noticed any major changes in your physical or mental well-being, you should connect with a healthcare provider. 

Breast Pain and Discomfort

As you reduce your number of feedings, you may begin to feel some fullness, pain, and swelling. Some research suggests that hormone fluctuations, such as a rise in estrogen, may be to blame for sore breasts. [5] Your body may also just need some time to adjust to the new feeding schedule, causing an overproduction of milk. This can also increase your risk of clogged ducts or mastitis. [6] If needed, you can hand express to find some relief, but avoid completely emptying the breasts if you aren’t wanting to encourage more milk production. [6] Shop moisturizing nipple balm. 


Some people may also notice a change in their libido. This may be a result of ovulation returning, as well as having higher levels of estrogen in the body again. Estrogen tends to promote vaginal lubrication and sex drive. [7] 

Mood Swings and Extreme Emotions

Breastfeeding coming to an end can trigger many different emotions, from sadness to relief. It’s also normal to experience a shift between many different emotions. This is likely due to the drop in prolactin and oxytocin, two hormones that tend to produce feelings of love, relaxation, and satisfaction. [1] As a result, you may notice feelings of anxiety, sadness, guilt, irritability, etc. It is extremely important to be open and honest with your provider about what you’re experiencing, especially because postpartum depression can develop up to a year after birth. [8] 

Onset of Ovulation and Menstruation

Depending on how long and how exclusively you’ve been breastfeeding, you may also soon experience a return of ovulation and menstruation. [9] The hormones released while breastfeeding often prevent ovulation from returning for at least a few months, sometimes up to six months. The drop in prolactin and oxytocin from weaning will increase luteinizing hormone (LH), the hormone that triggers ovulation. [9] Signs of ovulation after giving birth include changes in cervical mucus, an increased sex drive, ovulation pain, and sore breasts. [10-13] You may also begin spotting or menstruating soon after you stop breastfeeding. It’s normal for your first postpartum period to be a bit different from your normal menstruation. You may notice longer or shorter cycles, irregular cycles, cramping, heavier bleeding, and blood clotting. [14] It’s always a good idea to mention anything unusual to your provider, just in case. 

Postpartum Support With Natalist

The postpartum period is a time of change, healing, bonding, and learning more about yourself and your little one. Whether it’s your first time breastfeeding or your umpteenth time, there are many new experiences that can come your way. Natalist is proudly led by a team of moms, doctors, and parents who understand the ups and downs of fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum life. If you are breastfeeding or recently postpartum and are interested in nutritional support, you should speak to a healthcare provider about taking a Postnatal Vitamin. Experiencing dry or cracked nipples? We’ve got you covered with breastfeeding-safe Nip & Lip Balm. Shop even more postpartum products, including hormone tests, here


  1. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Available from:
  2. Weaning. CDC. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. July 9 2021.
  3.  Breastfeeding Your Baby. FAQ029. ACOG. May 2021.
  4. Canul-Medina G, Fernandez-Mejia C. Morphological, hormonal, and molecular changes in different maternal tissues during lactation and post-lactation. J Physiol Sci. 2019;69(6):825-835. doi:10.1007/s12576-019-00714-4
  5. Tahir MT, Shamsudeen S. Mastalgia. [Updated 2022 Nov 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
  6. Enger L, Duryea T, Hoppin A. Patient education: Weaning from breastfeeding. UpToDate. April 7 2023.
  7. Cappelletti M, Wallen K. Increasing women's sexual desire: The comparative effectiveness of estrogens and androgens. Horm Behav. 2016;78:178-193. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.11.003
  8. Postpartum depression. Mayo Clinic. November 2022.
  9. Postpartum Birth Control. ACOG. Last updated April 2023.
  10. Moghissi KS. Accuracy of basal body temperature for ovulation detection. Fertil Steril. 1976;27(12):1415-1421.
  11. Brott NR, Le JK. Mittelschmerz. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; May 1, 2023.
  12. Tahir MT, Shamsudeen S. Mastalgia. [Updated 2022 Nov 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
  13. Pillsworth EG, Haselton MG, Buss DM. Ovulatory shifts in female sexual desire. J Sex Res. 2004;41(1):55-65. doi:10.1080/00224490409552213
  14. Patel, Shivani. Will my period change after pregnancy? October 2021. UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Dr. Kenosha Gleaton is board-certified in gynecology and obstetrics and is the Medical Advisor of Natalist. She received her MD from MUSC and completed her residency at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC.

Dr. Gleaton is passionate about women, health equity, and mentoring. She is the CEO of The EpiCentre, an OBGYN spa-like practice, and is a Clinical faculty member of Charleston Southern University. She is also a member of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists, and the American Association of Professional Women

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