Caring for the caregiver: support for providers

Caring for yourself & supporting colleagues

For professionals in any discipline, it is often challenging to care for a family experiencing the loss of their pregnancy, their newborn, or their infant.

Professionals may encounter families experiencing loss in a number of settings, including:

  • A midwife or physician’s office or clinic
  • Ultrasound department or clinic
  • Emergency department
  • Remote nursing station
  • Lab
  • Labour and delivery, high-risk obstetrics unit, or postpartum unit
  • Other hospital unit or floor
  • Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
  • Hospice facility
  • Public health or community health department
  • Breastfeeding clinic
  • A family’s home
  • Funeral home or cemetery
  • Cultural or religious event or facility

When caring for a family experiencing pregnancy or infant loss, you may find some aspects of care challenging. It may be hard to know what to say, how to help, or even to sit with a family who is sad or distressed. Their loss may bring up memories of your own losses, or you may be worried that a family is upset about the care they received.

It may be difficult to provide the family with as much care as you’d like, due to other duties or lack of resources, which may cause you some distress.

You may find that you see loss quite often, and try to distance yourself from it. You may find yourself feeling sad, angry or disappointed in the system or processes. Sometimes, the words “burnout,” “compassion fatigue,” and “moral distress” apply to these situations.

If you’ve felt or thought any of the above, you are not alone.

Ideas for support:

  • Take care of yourself at work– when possible, take breaks, eat and get away, even if just for a few minutes
  • Have a bereavement debriefing with a colleague, your team or a professional
  • When possible, work in pairs or as part of a team
  • Do something you enjoy after work or on your time off
  • Take care of yourself at home– get some exercise and rest
  • If you are noticing systems or process problems, consider forming a bereavement committee
  • Develop a self-care and self-awareness plan. Know your specific risk factors for burnout (there are several free and paid burnout inventories available). There are excellent resources related to compassion fatigue and burnout available, based on current literature findings.
  • Consider obtaining training in perinatal bereavement care
  • If you work alone or remotely, consider establishing a community of care in your region
  • As appropriate, talk about your thoughts and feelings with others. If your mental health is suffering, consider speaking with your primary care provider or a mental health professional
  • Attend a memorial event, either in person or online. October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and there are many events in communities across the province and online.

Bereavement debriefing

When possible, some teams find it beneficial to sit down as a group and discuss the events surrounding the pregnancy or infant loss. It is helpful to have the session facilitated by a neutral/objective person, preferably someone who was not directly involved in the loss.

Debriefings are neutral, factual and may provide information that clarifies events or myths about the sequence of events. Debriefings are not intended to point blame or criticize the performance of others involved in the crisis situation. The session should include all people involved in the events. Some attendees may choose to take notes. If so, ensure the notes are factual, without blame, and preserve anonymity for all involved.