Editor’s pick: Breastfeeding in jail

Free Images com - Cyan LiI took a breastfeeding support call a few years ago from a woman who was spending a week in a county jail but wasn’t being allowed to use her breast pump. The situation didn’t end well. The jail never budged on its policies, and the woman lost her milk supply, but not before dealing with excruciating engorgement.

On an immediate note, this was a hard situation. But when looking at it from the perspective of breastfeeding as an intervention in a new mother’s life, this was doubly heart-breaking.

I hope that mother was able to turn her life around, but it would’ve been much easier if the prison system had a more thorough understanding of attachment and the potential that becoming a new mother — especially when breastfeeding — has in changing the trajectory of an at-risk mother’s life, not to mention her baby’s life. Wellness writer Meryn Callander explains this phenomenon in her book, Why Dads Leave.

I’m excited to see at least one county jail changing its policies in breastfeeding and mother-baby time among inmates.

“It’s in the interest of everybody to really assist a woman in that situation to rebuild her life and create a healthy home for her child,” Diana Claitor, director of the Texas Jail Project, told the Texas Observer in this week’s Editor’s pick, “Bonding Behind Bars” by health writer Alexis Garcia-Ditta.

In this article, we learn about the Travis County Jail in Texas, USA — one of just 4 county jails in the United States that allows breastfeeding on-site.

Now, to be honest, this still not ideal. The jail only allows moms to breastfeed their newborns up to 2 times a day, 4 days a week. The article doesn’t mention anything about pumping, which I’m hoping is just an oversight, because how else are these moms supposed to keep up their milk supply beyond a few days?

But if a mother is able to keep up her milk supply, and her baby is willing to latch even when only offered the opportunity sporadically at best, those women are rewarded with private time with their babies for a couple hours each time.

This is a huge step — though it’s still not enough. These moms need to have constant access to their babies, not only to be able to breastfeed successfully but also to actually be able to use new motherhood as a turning-around point in their lives. The article is a bit lax on the risks of separating mothers and their children, really downplaying the attachment component.

But it is a step in the right direction, at least.


*Photo from Free Images.com/Cyan Li

Author: Rita Brhel

Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader, lives with her family near Hastings, NE, USA, where she works as a WIC Breastfeeding Counselor. She also writes for Mothering and La Leche League's New Beginnings.

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