Breastfeeding From Behind Bars

prisonAccording to the Woman’s Prisons Associated last year approximately 10,000 babies were born inside of the prison system in the United States. These babies often face tremendous difficulties, however, there are groups out there working hard to make improvements in the lives of these little ones – some of them right here in Oregon.

A group out of Aloha Oregon, Ayla Birth, recently spoke in Corvallis at the Oregon Public Health Association Conference. Ayla birth works with incarcerated families providing support through education, and offering one on one Doula support to incarcerated woman. They have taken their efforts a step further to work with the local W.I.C program in order to offer a partnership to support breastfeeding among non-custodial parents.

To put things into perspective, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes an incredible increase of women becoming incarcerated; between 1990-2009 the jump was 153%. On average 4-6% of woman are in some stage of pregnancy when entering the corrections system, which according to the ACOG has led to a jump in demand for services without proper timing or research to put systems in place.

Since 2009 agencies like Ayla have come together to meet that need. Working with the local Women’s Prison, Coffee Creek, their presence allows mothers to pump breast milk that is then delivered to foster families who are able to provide it to the child. It may seem like a small step, however one of the recommendations in the study from 2009 from the ACOG was “The American college of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly supports breastfeeding as the preferred method of feeding for newborns and infants (13). Given the benefits of breastfeeding to both the mother and the infant, incarcerated mothers wishing to breastfeed should be allowed to either breastfeed their infants or express milk for delivery to the infant. If the mother is to express her milk, accommodations should be made for freezing, storing, and transporting the milk.” This is exactly the program Ayla provides, while educating incarcerated woman throughout their pregnancy and working to achieve healthy births.

For more information on Ayla birth you can visit their website ( where they also have a short educational film entitled, An Expression of Love, which speaks about their program within Coffee Creek.

by Amy-Rose Simpson