Where are they now? Catching up with Lucy Ellen Towbin, LCSW

Towbin admires her grandchild in this recent photo.

Many of Lucy Ellen Towbin’s, LCSW endeavors are defined by nourishment. By the time she was two, Towbin was producing art and as she has continued to make multimedia art into her 70s, she nourishes her Self. As the eldest of four children, Towbin helped provide for her
younger siblings in their childhood. In her 30s, as a new mother,  she nourished her children.  As a social worker and lactation care provider, she supported other dyads in their infant feeding efforts. Later, Towbin started a business (which has since been sold) that offers clean, dehydrated parrot pellets, so that she and other parrot-owners could escape reliance on industry-produced pet food which usually contains additives and food coloring that parrots are particularly sensitive to.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Towbin retired from the
Arkansas Health Department, and while she no longer holds her IBCLC
credential, she continues to assist new mothers informally. Towbin now
practices as a part-time therapist for a psychotherapy clinic in
Arkansas.

The last time Towbin graced Our Milky Way was back in 2017 when we
featured the breastfeeding art contest she facilitated through the
Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition.

We’re pleased to have chatted with Towbin as part of our Where are they
now? series. Responses have been edited for brevity.

 

Towbin poses with Ruth Lawrence roughly a decade ago.

How did you become interested in maternal child health? 

The first job I had at the Department of Health was as the refugee health program coordinator. We worked with mostly refugees from Southeast Asia.  I was really interested in and intrigued  by the difference in how
they were taking care of their children. They slept with their babies, which I’m sure plenty of people in the U.S. still did quietly, but back then, no one was talking about it.
During a panel discussion we once held, a speaker from Laos shared
that his six children born in Laos were breastfed, and the five children
born in the States were bottle-fed. This is when I really became
interested in the cultural aspects that affect infant feeding, and I started
to try to figure out what was going on.

Is there a current trend, project or organization that excites you?

I’m really not that up-to-date about trends in lactation, but what does
excite me are the portable pumps that working moms can wear. A close
friend of my daughter’s is a nurse practitioner and she showed me her
pump that she wears under her white jacket as she walks around seeing
patients. It makes almost no noise and it’s amazing because you don’t
even know that it’s under there. That would’ve been so incredible for me
to have as a working breastfeeding mom.

When I was working outside of the home, it was really difficult; even La
Leche League wasn’t very supportive of working moms at the time. With
my first child, I had a manual pump and my own office, but the pump was
miserable.  It hurt and wasn’t that effective. With my second child, I
stayed home longer with him and then he wouldn’t take a bottle, so I
didn’t do that much pumping. When I went back to work, my mother took
care of him and she lived close to where I was working, so I would nurse
him before work, and then drive back and forth to her house to feed him
about every two hours. It was a lot of back and forth.

What is the most significant change you’ve noticed within maternal child
health?

I have a very small sample size to talk about significant changes. All I
know is from my daughter and her friends. I’ve noticed that there seems
to be less unmedicated births happening in the hospital. I know there are
still a lot of people choosing home birth. But of those having babies in
the hospital, I haven’t heard about anyone doing what I did and having
mine in the hospital, but with no pain medicine or IV or anything.   I was
lucky to find the physicians that I did who went along with my wishes.  I
would expect there would be more supportive physicians now and instead, I don’t hear about any. I do want to reiterate that my observations are based on just a small group.

What is your best piece of advice for the next generation of lactation
care providers?

The most helpful lesson combines my training as both a therapist and
lactation consultant. New mothers need so much emotional support.
They don’t need people to take care of the baby. Bringing food and running errands for them is helpful. But I think what gets overlooked is
how much they need to be told that they’re going to make it, that they will
survive this early period of no sleep, and not knowing if they are doing a
good job. They need reassurance that this difficult time is normal and
they need to be told they will get through this.

My best piece of advice for the next generation is to take a holistic
approach, don’t just emphasize the physical exam. Equally important is
how much sleep the mother is getting,  what she is eating, if she is
getting exercise, if she has family and friends supporting her, if she has a
plan for if she’s going to be working outside of the home. It’s important to
equip new moms with coping strategies like easy breathing exercises or
something when she is feeling stressed that are doable in short time
frames and at home.

Where do you envision yourself in the next decade?

Asking someone my age where I see myself in the next ten years is
basically just hoping I’m still healthy and active! I do all the right things
and have good genes, so I’m on the pathway to that, but you never
know. Appreciate good health and youthful energy if you still have it.

Field of lactation gains child psychologist

The field of lactation just gained another amazing care provider. Kenya Malcolm, PhD, CLC is a child psychologist, consultant, and trainer in Rochester, New York. Dr. Malcolm’s work focuses on programs and interventions in early childhood in mental health settings, preschools and pediatric offices. Among her many responsibilities, Dr. Malcolm is the HealthySteps program coordinator at a large pediatric practice.

Dr. Malcolm says, “The research is pretty clear that working with caregivers early to support children is the best way to promote optimal family and child health. So, that’s what I do!”

In fun, Dr. Malcolm is not only passionate about mental health, but she’s a self-described stationery nerd.

“I think that color coding is a great way to take notes and stay organized but I’ve been mocked for my pen collection!” she begins. When her LCTC instructor Dr. Anna Blair recommended using multiple ink colors on the Lactation Assessment & Comprehensive Intervention Tool (LAT), Dr. Malcolm says she felt validated.

She was again validated during the first few sessions of the course while learning about the benefits of breast/chest feeding not only for the baby but for lactating people.

“That’s when I knew I’d made the right decision to sign up for the course,” she reflects.

Because Dr. Malcolm is new to lactation counseling, she says that “every successful chest feeding story is my favorite right now.”

Photo by Luiza Braun

“All the moms have been so happy that they’re successful!” she explains. “I was not supported in breastfeeding my own kids when they were born and honestly, being a CLC is like an opportunity to be the superhero I wish I had 20 years ago.”

In becoming that superhero, Dr. Malcolm subscribes to reflective practice as a guiding principle in her work, and more specifically, in her leadership roles.

Dr. Malcolm remembers the words of one of the founding members of ZERO to THREE Jeree H. Pawl: “How you are is as important as what you do.”

Here’s more of what Dr. Malcolm had to say:

“Reflective supervision is a special kind of supervision that focuses on the practitioner’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to support their ability to provide good care to the folks they are working with. Working with caregivers and children is tough work and usually includes navigating systems that are very siloed with rigid expectations. As humans, we often respond in ways that are just as much about ourselves as about the family in front of us. Reflective supervision is a necessary space for slowing down and looking at our actions to improve care, reduce bias and disparities, and improve the well-being of everyone involved. Reflective capacity is a skill and reflective supervision is considered a necessary component of support for people who are working with young children and families by most major organizations working toward the health of families.”

In Dr. Malcolm’s side gig with The Society for The Protection and Care of Children, participants introduce themselves with their baby pictures “as a way to hold in mine our own younger selves who continue to show up in our work.” The work focuses on training staff in Infant Mental Health (IMH) principles, Reflective Supervision, and infant/early childhood mental health conceptualization and diagnosis using the DC0-3 across New York state.

“One IMH principle is that we always hold the baby in mind,” Dr. Malcolm begins. “But it’s not just the baby in front of us. We also have to be aware of the baby whose needs are still present in our own selves. That’s why reflective spaces are so important. Our own biases and histories are present in all of our current interactions–another IMH tenant is that our early experiences matter– and we want to be mindful of how those are showing up in our work in both helpful and not so helpful ways.”

Dr. Malcolm tackles another big idea. Responding to an article on moral injury she wrote on social media, “I… think there’s a savior fantasy that many health professionals have that is sometimes traumatic to lose while in the field.” This phenomenon often rings true for lactation care providers. Dr. Malcolm advises doing the self- work it takes for true humility and reflection.

She shares this anecdote:

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

“I was observing a lactation counseling visit last week and a mom came in with questions about a possible tongue tie and some nipple pain with feeding. Since the latch was poor, the LC provided some strategies for improving latch that helped to address some of the pain. Like, mom agreed that there was less pain with position changes. But mom was not actually interested in working on latch; she was focused on the possibility of the tongue tie. The LC did a great job of talking through her observations and assessment and providing next-step ideas to Mom. But the LC and I really wanted mom to want to improve her latch. It would be easy to feel like that was an unsuccessful visit because we didn’t save the day in the way we wanted. But mom left feeling heard and supported. Many of us go into human services work to be a hero (I actually used the words “being a superhero” two answers ago!! I’m tempted to change that answer now, but I’m not going to.) of our own design. Families don’t need that. They need support to be at their own best.”

You can connect with Dr. Malcolm here.

Learning self care through active practice

The same principles apply to supporting self care as the business case for breastfeeding: employees who are more satisfied and loyal and cost savings realized in the retention of experienced employees, the reduction in sick time taken, and lower health care and insurance costs.

Nearly a decade ago, Healthy Children Project’s Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC, ANLC helped establish a meditation room in the maternity care wing of the hospital she worked at. With soft lighting, comfy chairs and the option for aromatherapy and calming music, the room was well-received, or necessary as Walls would argue.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-kneeling-on-a-yoga-mat-4498216/

Now, Walls co-teaches an overview of holistic health as part of the Allied Health program at Sinclair College in Ohio.

Walls and colleague Jeri Layer recently presented a compressed version of the course, “Learning Self Care Through Active Practice”, to Sinclair faculty.

In their course, they ask participants to consider what they do on a daily basis to maintain physical and mental health.  Participants are also asked to consider: what are their stress triggers and what are the sensations associated in those times of stress?

Typically, as a nation, we have been taught to be reactionary with our health, but Walls says that even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she started to notice people paying attention to mental health and self-care.

“The pandemic put a really bright light on it,” Walls says.

Walls and Layer have broken down self-care into very specific strategies and offer a variety of modalities for humans to promote emotional, mental and physical health.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva: https://www.pexels.com/photo/closeup-photo-of-white-petaled-flowers-965982/

For instance, aromatherapy can come in the form of simple awareness of the scents around us like freshly baked bread, the air after a rain, or the scent of roses. Essential oils can be used therapeutically as they have “a direct effect on the brain and trigger emotions and hormonal responses.”

The duo advise how to use essential oils along with methods of administering like steam inhalation, direct application to the skin with carrier oils, or used in diffusers like lamp rings or cotton balls for example. Oral ingestion is NOT recommended, they warn.

Tapping, or the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), is another modality proposed.

“Tapping is a self-help technique that involves tapping with fingertips on points of ‘energy meridians’ located around the body,” Walls explains. “It is based on the theory used for acupuncture, but without the use of needles, to stimulate energy points on the body which create a balance both emotionally and physically.”

Affirmations can be coupled with tapping.

Walls and Layer share these:

“Even though I feel this anxiety, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

“Even though I panic when I think about ______, I am strong enough to deal with this.”

“Even though I’m having pain, I can see myself relaxing and releasing this pain.”

Other self-care techniques include the Havening Technique which is a method that uses sensory input to alter thought, mood, and behavior through a process called synaptic depotentiation, mindful breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, box breathing, and three-part breathing, and mediation.

The majority of these practices are inexpensive and accessible making them good options for whenever the need arises.

Walls and Layer emphasize the importance of building the immune system as a self-care tool. Part of building a healthy gut, a major component of the immune system, is minimizing the use of antibacterials and instead, washing hands with toxin-free soaps.

Using appropriate herbs, ensuring proper micronutrients through whole foods and prioritizing sleep are all vital components in caring for ourselves holistically, the duo teach in their course.

Photo by Nathan Cowley: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-slicing-gourd-1153369/

Walls acknowledges that it’s often most difficult to carve out time for self-care when we need it the most.

Reminiscing about when her children were young, Walls says, “I look back on those really busy times in my life and wonder ‘How did I get through those crazy times?’ I think I learned early on how to do a lot of these self care techniques… and I am really glad because I can see the benefits as the years have gone on… I am reaping the benefits now at my age from [practicing self-care] back then.”

When we practice self-care, we’re setting examples for the next generation, too. Walls points out that her adult daughter now uses many of techniques she observed as a child with her own children and with the children she works with at an elementary school.

Walls likens this to a concept Dalai Lama is credited with: “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”

Photo by Felix Mittermeier: https://www.pexels.com/photo/closeup-photography-of-water-drop-355724/

Check out another Our Milky Way piece Self-care strategies for lactation care providers for more thoughts on providing sustainable care.

Self-care strategies for lactation care providers

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. Read on about self-care strategies for lactation care providers.

Image credit: WHO

When a gas-powered vehicle is low on fuel, it’ll often show signs of fuel starvation like a sputtering engine and intermittent power surges. Eventually, when the engine dies completely, the hydraulic power to the brakes and steering lose power too. Steering and stopping is still possible at this point, but it requires greater effort.

Perinatal professional Sara BhaduriHauck, CLC of Mandala Motherhood analogizes the vehicle and the human body and how self-care and nurturing mental health is crucial to providing sustainable care.

“It feels good to give,” she begins, speaking from the perspective of lactation care provider. “But you can only give so much.”

Learning to sense the feelings and sensations that warn us of burnout, is like filling up the gas tank when it hits a quarter tank.

“Keep an eye on your gas tank,” BhaduriHauck advises.

This wisdom of self-discipline, knowing when to stop giving to others so that one can give to themselves, allows for a healthy care provider/client relationship.

Liba Chaya Golman, CLC with lev lactation shared her struggle after a particular session: “I just met with a dyad dealing with weight loss and low supply and while we have a short term plan and pediatrician involvement, I am feeling so emotionally spent after the consultation. I’m empathetic by nature and became a CLC after my own difficult breastfeeding experience. I feel capable of managing the situation and have people to refer to and rely on, but came home and cried after the visit.” Soliciting tips for lactation provider self-care, BhaduriHauck offered up some suggestions.

“I find therapy to be an amazing self-care tool, especially when client situations trigger my own traumas,” she shared. “The situations that hit us the hardest shed light on the areas inside of ourselves that need some tender attention.”

BhaduriHauck endured traumatic birth experiences herself, like so many maternal child health care providers who are drawn to this work because of personal challenges that they endured.

After slogging through our mental health system,  BhaduriHauck eventually connected with a trauma-informed therapist specializing in EMDR and a perinatal mental health specialist. Later, BhaduriHauck pursued training as a postpartum doula.

“Doing that work and learning how to help other people also helped me help myself,” she explains. “You have to have healed enough of your own emotional stuff to put it down and to pick up someone else’s, but in learning to help others, I was also learning how to support myself.”

She continues that journaling allows care providers to give their feelings space and “attention to be seen and articulated.”

“Sometimes I just need the space to express them before I can let them go,” she shares.

Affirmations are another avenue of self-care for care providers to explore.

BhaduriHauck uses this one most often: This work isn’t about its outcomes. It’s about making a difference.

“Over-giving/over-investing is something I fall into naturally, and I have to work at creating distance between a client’s situation and my responsibility to it,” she explains. “Reminding myself that me just doing my job, makes a world of difference to the client [and]  helps me release some of the big feelings I’m holding onto about the client’s situation.”

BhaduriHauck acknowledges two types of processing: active and passive.

Going to therapy, having someone who is trained in validating and providing empathy, is an example of active processing. When our feelings are “infused with empathy,” as BhaduriHauck puts it, “we can put them away inside ourselves softer.” The opposite of this can happen if we have not chosen the listener appropriately, she warns.

Passive processing sometimes comes in the form of slowing our pace and down regulating our nervous systems. For BhaduriHauck, she finds a calmer state of being by going for a walk, snuggling her dog, or taking a hot bath. In these scenarios, she might not be actively processing trauma or emotions, but she’s giving her body space.

Intentionality in practice can help preserve mental health, and allow a care provider to be a more effective support person too. BhaduriHauck suggests checking in with oneself, “Am I doing this in service of the client, or in service to myself?” If it’s the latter, there are better avenues to pursue the boost of “feeling good by doing good” and/or getting the assurance that “my knowledge is valuable”.

BhaduriHauck shares some final thoughts on mental health as a lactation care provider. “The emotional learning I’ve done in becoming a care provider and overcoming my own struggles, they’ve gone hand in hand.  My experiences help other people and others’ experiences have helped me in learning emotional management techniques. When I talk to parents… I can listen without it triggering past traumas.”

Photo by Madison Inouye

She goes on, effective care requires the provider to have trained themselves to embrace the emotional component of the work in ways that are in service to their clients.

In 2021, the CDC issued a call to action to protect health care workers’ mental health. You can find that  information here.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources for Health Care Professionals including peer and professional support options. Find those resources listed here.

Praeclarus Press offers Burnout, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Moral Injury in Maternity Care Providers, an opportunity to learn about the stresses of maternity care and how to care for yourself on the job. Learn about the course here.

“She was living, but she wasn’t alive”: May 4th marks World Maternal Mental Health Day

“‘I have too much mental health and breastfeeding support,’ says no family EVER!” Felisha Floyd of The B.L.A.C.K. Course has accurately asserted. Around the world, as many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMADs).  Often, PMADs go unnoticed and/or untreated and can have tragic and long-term consequences to families and subsequently societies.

The World Maternal Mental Health (MMH) Campaign’s blog features the sometimes harrowing, sometimes triumphant stories of those enduring PMADs. 

“It didn’t look anything like what the brochures told me it would look like….For me, PPD/PPA was a sneaky vixen that tricked my mind into thinking that every new mom felt like this,” one contributor writes. “That I was living in a cruel joke of a world where no one tells you that as soon as that baby pops out, you will never feel the same way again. The sneaky vixen told me that we’d made a huge mistake. We weren’t supposed to have a baby. That what I thought I wanted more than anything my whole life, was something that just wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like this baby I was holding was mine. It belonged to the universe but I wasn’t his mom.”

Another shares, “I would look into the mirror and wonder who was the person looking back at me.  She looked like me, but did not feel like me.  There was no spark in her eyes.  She was living, but she wasn’t alive.”  

May 4 marks World Maternal Mental Health Day, time to reflect on why we need to pay attention to maternal mental health, influence policy and drive social change, reducing the stigma of maternal mental health. 

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

The MMH Taskforce has curated a hub for individuals and organizations to find information about MMH and suggest a variety of ways to get involved including a social media toolkit with simple actions. 

Last year, the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance (MMHLA) compiled the Perinatal Mental Health Advocacy Toolkit,  “designed to help perinatal mental health (PMH) advocates understand the importance of their voices in raising awareness and influencing public policy to better support the mental health of women and other birthing people during the perinatal timeframe. Recognizing that advocacy and lobbying may sound scary or feel overwhelming, this Toolkit provides information and tools to empower advocates to tell their stories effectively, to build an advocacy network, and to put advocacy into action.” The document is complete with worksheets so that participants can build their own Toolkits with items like talking points, scripts for telephone calls, sample emails and letters, and more.

This work is of critical importance as we know that the health of mothers influences the health of the entire family. 

Dr. Beryl Watnick, PhD has pointed out that the “mother infant bond is of profound importance. The brain patterns in babies can mirror the brain patterns in depressed mothers, but when women with depression are taught how to engage their babies in spite of their depression, their children’s depressed brain patterns can reverse themselves. This is the power of parenting.” 

Although it is true that there is a vast amount of work to do in order to de-stigmatize maternal mental health and better support mothers and their families, there are also simultaneously a great deal of successes to celebrate. There are effective and well-researched treatment options available to help women recover, like breastfeeding. Individuals can connect with knowledgeable providers using Postpartum Support International’s database

One such provider is Jabina Coleman, LSW, MSW, CLC, IBCLC aka The Lactation Therapist, providing clinical support, resources and tools for the start of a successful breastfeeding journey and adjustment into parenthood. 

“Everybody Wants to Hold the Baby, Who Will Hold the Mother?” Coleman’s poignant credo. On her website, she lays out how to effectively hold mothers, with an emphasis on addressing the maternal mortality crisis that affects Black women who are dying three to four times the rate of their white counterparts.

In addition to the resources provided by the MMH Taskforce, MMHLA, and The Lactation Therapist, there are a variety of other opportunities to learn about and support MMH.

The Michigan Breastfeeding Network is hosting “Human Lactation and Mental Health: Best Practices” with presenters Tameka Jackson-Dyer, BASc, IBCLC, CHW, Rosa Gardiner, RN, IBCLC, Mistel de Varona, IBCLC, and Kara Smith, BSN, RN, CLC, PMH-C. You can register for the webinar here

Kathleen Kendall Tackett’s, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA presentation Does Breastfeeding Protect Maternal Mental Health? The Role of Oxytocin and Stress is available here

The American Heart Association, with funding support from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program, is hosting a webinar titled “Mixing Milk + Meds: Assessing Infant Risk during Breastfeeding” on Wednesday, June 15, at 2 p.m. ET. Speakers from the Infant Risk Center will discuss how to evaluate which medications are safe for breastfeeding patients.