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