What Do Pregnant Inmates and Doulas Have In Common?


Well, usually, not much.

But now, for the first time, a new organization is pushing to provide free doula services for pregnant inmates in Minnesota. The organization is Isis Rising Prison Doula Program and it’s a non-profit based out of Minnesota.

Shockingly enough, according to the American Journal of Public Health, between 6 and 10 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant; in one year alone, 1,400 women will give birth while incarcerated in the United States — and their treatment may just make you question “justice for all.”

Not only are pregnant inmates forced to wear belly chains for doctor’s visits, but many are fully shackled — we’re talking hands and feet to the bed — while giving birth. Although it varies from state to state, after giving birth, many mothers are then only allowed 24 hours with their baby before he or she is removed and placed with family members or in foster care. And although breastfeeding is encouraged by the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, doing so requires quite a bit of adaptation, supplies, and willingness to help the prisoners on the prison’s behalf — something most are unwilling to do.

As one can imagine, birth and postpartum outcomes for pregnant inmates are often poor — not only do the restricted birthing conditions lead to complications during labor and delivery, like higher C-section rates, but the isolation and mother-baby separation can contribute to higher rates of postpartum depression as well.

The Isis Rising program is trying to change things by offering pregnant mothers support through pregnancy, birth, and beyond.

“The program includes individualized support for expectant incarcerated mothers along with a mothering group facilitated by our doulas, providing support during birth along with the education and skills they need to be stronger, more connected mothers,” the site reads.

Part of that program’s efforts include providing childbirth education, a doula-attended birth, and pushing for anti-shackling laws, making Minnesota the 20th state in the country to make it illegal for women prisoners to be shackled while giving birth. (I mean, honestly, isn’t giving birth hard enough as it is?) The doula meets with the prisoner once a month and is also present when the mother is separated from her baby — a critical and emotional time.

And the results?

The program has seen a dramatic decrease in C-section rates (from 63% to only 3%) among pregnant inmates, as well as produced all full-term deliveries and no low birth-weight babies — all of which are significant in both health outcomes for mom and baby and cost savings for the state who is paying for the healthcare.

Initial data points to the program as “promising,” but cites that additional research — and of course, funding — will be necessary.

What do you think? Are pregnancy programs and free doulas a good idea for pregnant inmates?  


Image via my_southborough/Flickr

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