Helping incarcerated mothers during pregnancy, labor and birth

Mothers behind bars are invisible to most of us. Nevertheless, the incarceration rate for women has skyrocketed in the past three decades, and most are in their prime-childbearing years. Medical services for expectant incarcerated mothers is a growing area of concern for prisons and county jails across the state.

After meeting with a prison chaplain who works closely with female inmates, Rep. Richard DeBolt was ready to find a way to help.

Mothers in jail or prison typically give birth without family members, loved ones or any emotional support. For many pregnant inmates, the most painful part of the birth isn’t the actual delivering of the baby. It’s what happens two to three days later when they must give up their child to a relative or social worker and return to their prison cell.

Looking to create better outcomes for expectant incarcerated mothers and their babies, DeBolt introduced a bill during the 2017 session that would provide reasonable accommodations for volunteer midwives and doulas to meet with and care for incarcerated expectant mothers.

Midwives are healthcare professionals who focus on a woman’s holistic care during pregnancy, labor and the weeks following birth. Doulas provide prenatal education and group parenting classes. They assist with births and help sustain relationships between the mothers and their newborns. For inmates this could be as simple as bringing a blanket that smells like the mother to cover and comfort the newborn.

Both midwives and doulas are equipped to help women through the emotional issues that follow birth like postpartum depression, often exacerbated when the mother and newborn live apart. Studies continue to show the positive impact midwives and doulas have on birth outcomes for mothers and their newborns.

“At one time, midwives were the only assistance available to women in labor. A large part of their role is parental education,” said DeBolt, “If you help a woman learn how to be a good mother, you can transform her life and the life of her child. We need to do all we can to help these babies and their mothers get off to a good start.”

House Bill 2016 was approved by the House, 97-1. However, it failed to make it to the Senate floor for a vote. DeBolt plans to again support the bill in the 2018 session.