Breastfeeding Behind Bars

by Monica Esparza, Deputy Director, NMBTF

In August 2017, NM District 1 Court ruled that breastfeeding is a constitutional right under the NM Equal Rights Amendment and held that NM Corrections Dept must allow inmate mothers to breastfeed during in-person visitations and must allow inmate mothers to use an electric breast pump to express milk while they are separated from their child (Hidalgo v NMCD). In Spring 2018, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center officially released their Breastfeeding Support Program policy. Over the last year, five inmate mothers/baby dads have received breastfeeding support. Support for mothers in the corrections system has been made possible by the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, Southwest Women’s Law, UNM Law, YWU, Wings for Life, WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors and many other organizations.

Between 1980 and 2014, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, with a high percentage for non-violent crimes. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18. It is of utmost importance that we support this population so they can provide what we know to be the best start to life—breast milk.

My passion has always been to support breastfeeding families, helping them reach their goals in spite of the many barriers breastfeeding families face. Let’s face it: breastfeeding families today are overcome with so many obstacles when trying to reach their goals. For our marginalized communities, this is even more true. As a Hispanic woman of color who grew up in a low-income community, I understand what these families face because I faced some of those struggles myself. Beyond the many benefits that come with breastfeeding, supporting breastfeeding families in this situation can play an role in reducing the rates of recidivism and child abuse, as breastfeeding supports and impacts the attachment between mother and child, ultimately impacting our communities as a whole.

Navigating through the bureaucracy of the many systems has been complicated and we have had to learn as we go. From taking volunteer training at MDC, to figuring out how to submit a visitation request to corrections, to ensuring moms have the access they need to the electric pump they rely on to maintain their supply when separated from their babies. Not to mention counseling without visual aids or tools. I’ve heard many heartbreaking stories from these mothers, as they struggle to maintain their milk supply. Ultimately, the honor should go to the moms who have stood up and advocated for their babies.   This month, a mom was successful in exclusively providing her breast milk to her baby, and after almost two months, was reunited with her. This is just a small part of her story, but as she told me, it helped her maintain a connection with her baby by knowing that is was something she could do for her and that it was one of the best things she could do.

Our goal is to continue to help moms and hear stories like the one above, but we need the help of our members. We need volunteers to help pick up milk and drop off supplies, counselors and lactation specialist to provide counseling support, funding to continue the program and supplies, and much more—we need you!

Email to join this effort.