Women’s experiences of breastfeeding in prison

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The benefits of breastfeeding for the long-term health and well-being of mother and baby are abundant. The effects on bonding between mother and baby are significant and physiological immunity is paramount in protecting the child in later life. Women are free to decide whether or not they wish to breastfeed; however, perinatal women in prison are less able to make this choice due to systems of power and control, enforced within the prison estate, which too frequently render these new mothers powerless in the decision to breastfeed. This paper forms part of wider research to explore women’s perinatal experiences whilst in prison and aims to consider how women learn about breastfeeding, and the postnatal experience of breastfeeding, lactation and expressing milk for separated babies in prison. During 2015-2016 audio-recorded semi-structured interviews sought to discover the experiences of 28 pregnant women and new mothers in prison in England. Women were either pregnant at the time of interview, residing with their babies on a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) within a prison, separated postnatally from their babies, or interviewed post-release. NVivo analysis enabled the deconstruction of events and interactions associated with their experience of breastfeeding. Extracts from interview transcripts highlight the women’s voices regarding their breastfeeding experiences coupled with the interwoven reflections of the midwife as researcher. There is a clear need to more fully consider the benefits of breastfeeding for these women and how this essential human function may be maximised within the prison setting.

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