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The Reality of Postnatal Depression – Interview with Dr. Phil Robert

Welcoming a new baby into the world is a massive change for any mother and one which brings with it an array of emotions as your body and mind adjust to caring for your new arrival.

It is extremely common for women to experience emotional changes in the days after giving birth. These changes are known as the ‘baby blues’ and may come in the form of mood swings, tearfulness and sadness and tend to appear on the third or fourth bay after having your baby. These feelings may last up to ten days postpartum and are a normal part of the transition into motherhood, affecting up to 50% of new mothers. It is caused by the drastic drop in hormone levels accompanied by the adjustment to feeding, caring for and worrying about your new son or daughter along with the added hurdle of dealing with your own physical recovery from giving birth. The baby blues usually resolves on its own and lasts no more than two weeks, postnatal depression (PND) however, lasts longer, is more severe and does not generally resolve without management.

Dr. Phil Robert, Counsellor and Psychotherapist, has extensive experience in the field of postnatal depression and anxiety and kindly agreed to provide some insight into postpartum depression and how it can be treated.

Dr. Robert explains that, initially, postnatal depression may look like the baby blues as they share some symptoms such as irritability, inability to sleep and sadness, but that postnatal depression can be serious and have a detrimental effect on a new mother if not diagnosed promptly and managed accordingly. Postnatal depression can occur anytime in the year proceeding having a baby.

Signs and symptoms of postnatal depression are extensive and can vary from person to person but commonly come in the form of;

Dr. Robert points out that a new mother is not responsible for getting postnatal depression and having it does not mean that she is a bad parent – a fear that many experiencing PND have.

“Postnatal depression can attack women because they are so attached to their baby, they love their child so much that they feel inadequate. Some women are so anxious about being a good mother that everything can get on top of them”

In times gone by, depression and anxiety have been seen as taboo subjects, with many people suffering in silence, afraid to admit their feelings to anyone. Thankfully, with the progression of education, awareness and facilities, mental health concerns are now often discussed in a more open environment with many people finding it easier to speak out if they are experiencing uneasy feelings. Dr. Phil Robert explains however, that postnatal depression is often different in this regard;

“There’s still a stigma attached to postnatal depression, people will sometimes open up with other kinds of depression but not so readily when they have a baby. This is because they feel guilty, they think to themselves, ‘I have a beautiful baby, I should be happy, why am I feeling this way?”

However, Dr. Robert points out that postnatal depression is no different from any other kind of depression and it is not something to be ashamed of.

The precise cause of postnatal depression remains unknown, but the Health Service Executive (HSE) provides several factors which have been found, through research, to possibly contribute to it. Some of which, are; previous history of depression, unrealistic portrayals of motherhood circulating in the media which put pressure on new mothers, changes in your lifestyle such as caring for your newborn and having much less time to yourself .

When asked for her top 3 pieces of advice to those who think that they may be suffering from postnatal depression, Dr. Phil Robert outlines the following;

  1. Tell someone: Talk to someone that you trust, often speaking about your feelings is the first step to recovering your good health. Sharing your concerns is always a step in the right direction.
  2. Self-care: This includes both your physical and mental health. It is important to make time for yourself and to look after your health. You are just as important as your baby.
  3. Get a support plan in place: Organise for someone to mind your baby now and then in order to get some ‘me’ time and don’t forget about your interests – the things that made you happy before becoming a mother.
    Arranging help to deal with your feelings is important, whether this means speaking to a doctor, counsellor or other trusted person.

Dr. Robert highlights that many cases of postnatal depression can be treated with self-care measurements such as the above but that in some cases medication is required.

“Medication can be used to treat postnatal depression in some instances depending on the severity of the case.”

If medication is warranted, it is usually only required for a short period of time, such as 6 months.

Many mothers who have experienced postnatal depression are naturally concerned that it will return if they have subsequent pregnancies, Dr Robert clarifies however, that;

“Just because a mother has had postnatal depression proceeding one pregnancy, it does not necessarily mean that she will have it after another.”

Dr. Robert has recently created a YouTube channel called Brain Balm where she posts ‘therapy, visuals and music to soothe your mind’. This channel provides a medium through which relaxation techniques, stress management techniques and sleep aids can be accessed online at any time and are not confined to anxiety or depression experienced in the postpartum period. Platforms such as this are particularly useful for those who experience panic attacks or disturbed sleep as they can be accessed immediately, anywhere.

It is imperative to note that with the right management, postnatal depression can resolve completely – Don’t suffer in silence, get the help you need and deserve!

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