As a continuation of our Pregnant and Parenting from Jail series and in honor of World Breastfeeding Month, Marjie Mogul, Senior Director of Research at MCC and a member of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition focuses part two of this series on Breastfeeding, specifically, the lactation program Maternity Care Coalition (MCC) organizes at Riverside Correctional Facility (RCF).
To learn more about this series, read the first post, which can be found here.
Breastfeeding in Jail
Why is Breastfeeding important? Breastfeeding carries many health benefits for infants and mothers, as well as potential economic and environmental benefits for communities. Among the known health benefits, breastfeeding provides a nutritionally balanced meal, some protection against common childhood infections and better survival during a baby’s first year, including a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Research also shows that very early skin-to-skin contact and suckling may have physical and emotional benefits. Breastfeeding boosts the baby’s immune system, may help improve an infant’s cognitive development and promotes maternal-infant bonding. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants should be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months after birth and up to one year while gradually introducing solid foods into the infant’s diet. When breastfeeding is impossible, pumping breast milk allows the baby to benefit from the nutritional value that breastfeeding offers and is still the healthiest choice for mom and baby.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) notes an incredible increase of women becoming incarcerated. On average, 4-6% of women are in some stage of pregnancy when entering the corrections system, which according to ACOG, has led to a jump in demand for services without proper timing or research to put systems in place. Many give birth while incarcerated and return to jail, while their baby is put into formal or informal kindship care. Since county jail sentences are less than 24 months (often 30-60 days), most will be reunited with their babies post-release. Given the benefits of breastfeeding, providing the opportunity for moms in jail to initiate breastfeeding after delivery and providing their babies with continued access to breast milk, is critical to the future healthy development of their baby. This allows and encourages women to pump breast milk while in jail and ensures continued production of breast milk so mom can resume breastfeeding when she’s reunited with her baby.
How one initiative is supporting and encouraging incarcerated women to breastfeed In March 2017, the Philadelphia Department of Prisons and MCC launched the Riverside Lactation program. The program consists of participants receiving manual pumps and breast milk storage supplies to be used in their cells as well as frequent scheduled pumping times with a hospital grade multiuser electric pump. MOMobile Advocates provide education and onsite assistance with milk expression and storage. Security and medical staff ensure that participants receive additional lactation supplies as needed. MOMobile Advocates coordinate transport of the frozen milk from mom to the caregivers of the babies. To date, ten women have actively participated in the program. One of the first women in the program pumped and stored enough milk that her baby exclusively consumed breast milk. Once this mother was physically united with her baby upon discharge from the correctional facility she was able to reinstate nursing her child and continued to do so exclusively.
Client Story Carrying a big red cooler of frozen breastmilk into someone’s home often attracts a fair amount of attention and conversation. When MOMobile Advocates deliver the milk, they go through proper freezing and thawing protocol with caregivers, and help them organize the milk by date, putting the freshest milk in the back of the freezer and the older bags towards the front. Recently, when Riverside Advocate, Bridget Biddle, made a “delivery”, the participant’s eight year old son was so interested that he sat down on the floor and helped organize the milk by date. He had a really good time talking about his new little sister and mom. “I like to think it was a fun way for him to feel connected to his mom and her desire to continue to provide this nourishment to his sister, and a way for him to be a part of caring for this new baby and making sure her milk was looked after” Bridget remarked.
Conclusion Research shows that breastfeeding offers many health benefits for infants and mothers, as well as potential economic and environmental benefits for communities. For a particularly vulnerable population—babies with incarcerated mothers—initiating breastfeeding and providing continued access to breast milk increases their chances of healthy physical, emotional and cognitive development. It’s a fact that healthy babies benefit the entire community.
In future posts, we will address: labor and delivery in jail; alternatives to incarceration for pregnant and parenting women, and the need for more research and advocacy in this field.
Dr. Marjie Mogul is the Senior Director of Research. Her career has focused on effective strategies improving the health and well-being of pregnant women and parenting families. She believes providing young children with strong foundations is the key to our future. Marjie’s expertise is research and advocacy with women in the criminal justice system. She has presented at national conferences and participates in a working group of national thought leaders. Her proudest work accomplishment was when the New York Times printed her reply to their editorial, “Women Behind Bars” and she was subsequently invited to The White House Convening on Women and the Criminal Justice System. She received her PhD in Social Work and Social Research from Bryn Mawr College, a Master’s degree in Business from Pennsylvania State University, and an undergraduate degree in Economics from The George Washington University. An ideal weekend day: trail running with her pure-bred shelter mutts and husband, then dark roast coffee on the deck.