Birth Support for Incarcerated Mothers

Picture of Mother with Baby

Dr. Shlafer’s Presentation at the Center for Child and Family Well-Being

I was trying to hold my tears when I saw two other women wiping the tears off their eyes. I knew then that it was not just my personal sensitivity, but our humanity that was touched by learning about the separation between a mother and her baby after 48 hours following birth. Despite her love for her child, the mother had no choice but to return to prison to complete the term required under the penal system. This video in Dr. Rebecca Shlafer’s presentation of “Birth Support to Incarcerated Mothers” at the Center for Child and Family Well-being (CCFW) seminar echoed her opening remark of a mother’s biggest fear, “I am going to be no better to my baby than my mom was to me.”

“Isis Rising” is a Doula Project intervention that Erica Gerrity and Dr. Shlafer implement and evaluate together to support pregnant women in the prison system in Minnesota. The project is named for Isis, the goddess of fertility. Modeling empathy and accountability, the Doula Project aims to provide physical, emotional and informational support to pregnant women in the prison. Specifically, doulas meet with incarcerated mothers individually once or twice a month to provide prenatal education, to assist during labor and delivery, and to give postpartum support.

The nature of doula-care is social rather than medical in nature. As Dr. Shlafer has explained, doula-care fills in the gap of a prison system. Health care for a pregnant woman is critical before, during and after the pregnancy, and yet it’s a weak point in the prison system for incarcerated women. Not only does the lack of care aggregate into higher risks for incarcerated mother’s own physical and mental health, it also increases costs for the society as a whole. In our ever-rising health care cost today, a preterm birth costs $50,000 per case1 (due to complications from birth to 6 years old); and a cesarean birth costs $5,000 to $8,0002 more to normal birth. Even though the Doula project is not a medical care intervention, its social support is effective in lowering the medical cost. Based on the results of the Doula project, Dr. Shlafer reported that there was no preterm or underweight births, and the cesarean birth rate is only 10% (4 out of 39 cases) in comparison with the national rate of 30% cesarean birth.

Operating with the assumptions of better birth, better motherhood and better citizens, the Doula Project may help break the cycle of despair for incarcerated women and their new-born babies. If you missed the inspiring talk of Dr. Shlafer on Isis Rising – the Doula Project at the CCFW on March 5, 2015, you can check out the You-tube video at this link,



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2. Source: Retrieved on 3/31/205

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