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.
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.
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.