Pregnant In Prison: 6 Shocking Realities About Giving Birth Behind Bars

At any given time, between 6 and 10 percent of the approximate 113,000 women serving time in the United States are pregnant. Between 1977 and 2007, the number of women behind bars increased by 832%. That rise in incarcerated women equates to several thousand babies born in prison each year. For female prisoners, giving birth while serving time is often a distressing experience. Here’s what you might not know about having a baby while incarcerated.

1) Your Due Date Will Likely Remain A Mystery

We admit that estimated due dates are often wrong, but there is an incredibly high level of uncertainty when it comes to giving birth while incarcerated. Inmates and their families are rarely informed of the possible, likely scheduled due date until the morning of the appointment. Even if an inmate is going to have a planned C-section, she won’t be told until the day of the procedure. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections asserts that the restrictions are in place to prevent women from getting outside help to plan an escape. Families are also kept in the dark regarding the birth details, with most families learning about the delivery after the inmate returns to prison.

2) Despite Being Closely Watched, You’ll Have A Lonely Birthing Experience

Although guards are watching around the clock, giving birth behind bars is often described as an exceptionally lonely time. Even seemingly mundane things like giving urine samples are done under the careful watch of an armed guard. Despite the “all-eyes-watching” experience, close family and friends are not allowed in the room with the inmate. Additionally, many states regulate when and for how long a birthing coach can be in the room and touch a patient.

3) It’s Possible You’ll Be Shackled While Giving Birth

Although 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some kind of anti-shackling policy, the particulars vary widely. Women in Connecticut can be placed in leg irons up until the last trimester of their pregnancy. Human rights groups argue that the practice of shackling women while giving birth violates their constitutional rights, and several disturbing cases of have been reported in recent years.

A new mother bonds with her baby Photo: YouTube

A new mother bonds with her baby Photo: YouTube

4) You Will Only Have 24-Hours With Your Newborn

Like much of the birthing process for incarcerated women, the amount of time an inmate will have with her newborn varies by state. But for most states, women have 24-hours with their newborn before “the separation” process begins. Many describe the experience as the most painful part of inmate birth. Some states allow mothers to spend 48-hours with their newborn. To make the most of their time together, new mothers are encouraged to make skin-to-skin contact and breastfeed as much as possible.

5) Your Child Will Likely Be Given To Close Family Or Foster Care

Only 10 states have prison nursery programs that allow mothers to stay with their babies beyond three days after giving birth. Washington allows children to stay with their inmate mothers for up to three years, while New York extends their program up to four years. While some states do have nursery programs, most violent offenders and women serving over 18-months are not eligible to participate in nursery programs. With limited programs, most children born to incarcerated mothers end up living with relatives or going into foster care.

Inmate mothers are at higher risk for mental health disorders Photo: Thinkstock

Inmate mothers are at higher risk for mental health disorders Photo: Thinkstock

6) You’ll Be At A Higher Risk Of Postpartum Depression

With limited medical attention, especially mental health treatment, new mothers are very prone to postpartum depression. Adding to the stress of giving birth while in prison, fellow inmates are often jealous of pregnant women, believing that they get special treatment. Advocacy groups are pushing for increased screening and treatment for postpartum mental disorders, but few resources exist for incarcerated women.

To learn more about the lives of female prisoners, watch Investigation Discovery’s all-new series, Women In Prison, Thursdays at 10/9c.

Photo: Thinkstock

  • Daniel Bond

    Stephanie Baker is among those women. She and her friend kidnapped and murdered her 10-year-old stepson Scotty

    • Juliana

      Don’t know who Stephanie Baker is but I understand what you’ve written of the crime she committed. However even as a inmate the pregnancy and health and welfare of the unborn child should be given top priority and if that means the pregnant mother is given special treatment so be it. Soon enough they will be once again a inmate doing the time for the crime. You see it through the victim’s eyes, and I get it. But in cases of pregnancy you should also see it through the unborn child’s eyes, even if it has to include the birth mother. No pregnant woman should be shackled to a bed during labor and delivery, it’s cruel and unusual punishment IMHO. More things could go wrong and can put the unborn child at a higher risk of something bad happening.

      • Daniel Bond

        I first learned about that case on an episode of the FBI Files-Betrayed.

      • Nike Brass Alghisio

        You are right

      • Tanner T

        Babies given up for adoption are only with the birth mother for meer hours. It’s not harmful to the infant at all provided bonding and naturing with the new caregiver is immediate. Tough on the criminal? If she were worried about her child and the child’s welfare she wouldn’t have been committing crimes.

        What the uninformed do not know and this article doesn’t say is if there is a legitimate medical reason a woman cannot be shacked she is not shacked. Shakeling poses absolutely no medical risks to the baby or the mother. If problems with a birth arise it takes 30 seconds to unlock them. Convicts are liars. They are manipulative, conniving, and often predatory in their behaviors. If given an inch they connive and exploit that inch into 10 miles. Cuffing and shakeling is not cruel and unusual treatment. It’s necessary based on the behavior of criminals. The rules aren’t made up arbitrarily. Every rule stems from the behavior of criminals. Just people someone ia currently in jail for shoplifting does not mean they are not also a murderer. The statistical probability an inmate was incarcerated the very first time they committed a crime is so low it is unquantifiable. Not ebery shoplifter is a murderer but for the safety of society procedures are the samw for all. If you don’t like being treated that way don’t commit crimes. It’s not that damn hard to stay out of jail and prison.

    • Moon

      she should not have had the luxury of having her mongrel with her. Hope this low-life HO feels what it feels like when a child is taken away from you! She deserve no mercy or pity!

      • Suzy Adams

        excuse you. My biological father was in prison when I was born and many times across my life and I don’t think I’m lesser because of his mistakes. Shame on you.

    • Moon

      Why should she get special treatment? She should be hanged for what she has done! she does not deserve the air she breathes ….

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  • Juliana

    You commit a crime you have to do the time but that doesn’t mean cruel and unusual punishment being extended to a pregnant inmate. I’m glad to hear that there is a more compassionate way for a inmate to give birth and have some bonding time with their child. The mother must still finish their time for the crime for which they were convicted of.

  • Leland_Gaunt

    And we’re supposed to pity these prisoners, why exactly?

    • Nike Brass Alghisio

      Because the babies don’ t have guilty

      • Tanner T

        Nothing negative is happening to the babies.

        • Suzy Adams

          I assume your mother was incarcerated when you were born?

    • Jennifer Bettencourt

      I don’t pity them because if you do the crime you pay the consequences. I do however feel badly for the babies born into it.

    • Keira Chan

      Look I for one would forgive them dor whatever crime they did. It depends on that at all.

    • Moon

      I agree Leland, no pity for these prisoners. They must pay for whatever crime they have committed! You do the crime you do the time!

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  • Christine Killen

    Boo Hoo! I don’t feel sorry for them at all. You don’t want to give birth in prison…DONT BREAK THE LAW!

    • Thedon82z1

      Right on!

    • Moon


  • argelia mendoza

    if the mother goes to prison for violent crimes, i can see where people can be harsh towards them. but when they went to prison because the tried stealing groceries to feed their poor family or didnt pay their taxes, why should they be treated so cruel?

    • Moon

      stealing is a crime and so is murder. If you are caught you need to be punished accordingly and this murderer got what she deserves. may she rot in jail!

      • Keira Chan

        Stealing isn’t as bad as murder

        • Moon

          If you steal, you can murder too. And for your info, stealing is a crime and criminals should be punished.

        • Tanner T

          Criminals never limit themselved to one type of crime. Just because they are incarcerated for theft doesn’t mean they aren’t a murderer. Corrections doesn’t know of all the crimes inmates have committed. They are all treated the same for the safety of the CO’s, the institution, and society as a whole. If they don’t like being treated like a criminal they shouldn’t be a criminal. It’s not that hard to not commit crimes.

    • Tanner T

      The statistical probility that a convict was incarcerated the very first time they convicted a crime is so low it’s unquantifiable.

      People that are incarcerated for income tax evasion have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s no petty theft. Also, just because someone is convicted of theft, tax evasion or what you are trying to deem harmless crimes does not mean they are not murders. Criminals never limit themselves to one type of crime.

      No one that meerly shoplifts to “feed their poor family” ends up in prison on their first round with the criminal justice system. Anyone that tells you they have is a liar. The system cannot support the incarnation rate this would cause.

      Stealing to “feed their family” is a bullshit excuse. There are food stamps, food pantries, churches, organizations that put on meals. How many free meals a day people can find will depend on location. In rural areas where you would likely have to drive far to access these meals there are organizations that can be called. If you and your children are hungry food will be found. If all else fails panhandling in areas where legal is an option. If someone were to stand on a street corner with a sign saying they needed food for their kids I am willing to bet 1k they would have food in under an hour. Stealing to feed their poor families is a fairytale sob story.

      No one is being treated cruelly. The rules come about based on the actions of the criminals. There is a reason they are restrained. If they don’t want to be treated like criminals they shouldn’t commit crimes. It’s not hard to stay out of jail and prison.

  • Keira Chan

    You know it’s good to keep the child with the mother! The experience can help the mother stay away from what ever crime they did!

    • Moon

      These criminals will never change! Once a low-life criminal always a criminal. The children should be given up for adoption and these HO’s spayed. They should never be allowed to have children ever again. If that doesn’t teach them a lesson, nothing will.

    • Penny Dreadful

      Or…she can stay away from crime by being locked up in jail. Its only good to keep the child with the mother if she’s capable of acting like a mother. A real mom wouldnt put their child in the position of being born to a criminal locked up in jail. Living a life of crime is no place for a baby and is better off being seperated from the mom. Change is rare when it comes to the majority of criminals. In jail they may act reformed but it all goes back to the same old ways once they’re out.

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