What It's Like To Be Pregnant In Prison

For any expectant mom, carrying a baby for nine months can be an equally joyous and challenging journey. But consider soon-to-be moms who are in prison. Pregnant women in prison have to deal with all the physical and emotional ups and downs associated with pregnancy while being locked away from the rest of the world. A correctional facility is not the ideal place to have a child, and the experience can be traumatic for both moms and their babies.

Over 210,000 women are incarcerated in the US, and although updated prison pregnancy statistics are difficult to find, a 2004 study found that 3% to 4% of women in prison were pregnant.

Most correctional facilities are not equipped to deal with pregnancies. Women and their prison babies often go without proper medical care.

You might be surprised to learn what it's like for a woman to go through a pregnancy in prison.


  • Pregnant Women Receive Minimal Special Treatment

    After being sentenced to prison, all women are required to undergo a general medical exam. The exam not only confirms that an inmate is pregnant, but also uncovers potentially unknown pregnancies.

    Pregnant female prisoners are not separated from the rest of the prison population unless they are drug addicts and require special medical treatment to prevent harm to their unborn babies. They may be given some special dispensation, such as a bottom bunk or an extra pillow. They remain in prison except for specially approved visits to an obstetrician outside of the correctional facility grounds.

  • Some Women Are Forced To Give Birth In Their Cells
    Photo: Officer Bimblebury / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Some Women Are Forced To Give Birth In Their Cells

    A lack of proper training and equipment in many prisons means that pregnant women are often at risk of giving birth without sufficient medical care. Some even give birth in their cells, which puts both mother and child at risk for infection and other health problems.

    Numerous cell births have occurred in the United States. A woman gave birth while in solitary confinement at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, CA. Another woman at the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs, CO, said she gave birth in her cell toilet without any assistance from staff, which led to her infant developing an E. coli infection. And a female inmate at the Denver County Jail said staff ignored her pleas for help when she went into labor.

    Other incidents in Texas and Michigan show that the problem is not isolated to any one area.

  • Women Who Go Into Labor Are Kept Under Constant Guard

    Women who go into labor while incarcerated have little privacy. Prison protocol often requires guards to constantly watch inmates, even as they are about to give birth. 

    At the same time, the pregnant woman can feel very alone because the guards are there merely for security reasons, not to provide emotional support during the birth. Some prisons allow doulas to coach pregnant prisoners through their delivery.

  • Prisoners Can Be Shackled While Giving Birth

    Across the United States, it's common practice for prisoners to be shackled when they leave their correctional facility, with legs, arms, and waist chained together. Most prisons don't make exceptions for women being transported to a hospital to give birth; only a few states have laws that explicitly ban the practice.

    Women who give birth while shackled or handcuffed to a bed experience pain and humiliation, and can't properly hold their newborn babies.