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Pregnancy Issues in Jail

Many jails are ill-prepared to handle pregnant inmates, as we saw in our article,  Jails aren’t prepared for pregnancy. Here we will look at some of the problems pregnant inmates experience and what it is like to be pregnant in jail.

A very different pregnancy experience

For a few mothers, being incarcerated while pregnant can provide needed healthcare they wouldn’t otherwise receive. But for most, being pregnant in jail worsens an already hard situation. These challenges occur at all points of the pregnancy journey, and are only a small sample of potential barriers inmates face.


  • Prenatal Care
    • When inmates have access to more prenatal medical care, birth weights are higher
    • Inmates frequently miss appointments due to staffing or coordination challenges
    • Medical boards support a wide range of reproductive services for inmates, but many women have trouble accessing them
    • Pregnancy tests should be offered when booked into jail, and when requested–but most facilities don’t have policies to address this
    • The abortion ban (Dobbs decision, 2022) has complicated how abortion services are provided, leading to confusion and misinformation
  • Nutrition and Vitamins
    • There is clear guidance on nutrition needs and recommended vitamins for those who are pregnant
    • Many reports indicate that inmates don’t receive the extra food, nutrition or snacks that could be needed during pregnancy
  • Lack of Support or Safety
    • Pregnant inmates often feel like their needs are neglected; feeling unsafe, unable to access resources or prepare for their pregnancy
    • Uncertainty about their situation and feeling isolated from important social connections is also harmful
  • Environment
    • Inmates have a lack of control over their environment, such as noise, hard beds, chairs and other supports which affects their overall well-being
    • Crowded areas, overheating and other factors can have a greater effect on pregnant women
  • Substance Use Disorder Treatment
    • Pregnant inmates who also have a substance use disorder should receive medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD). This can lead to babies that are healthier, yet some facilities do not offer this treatment


  • Medical Neglect or Miscarriages
    • There are many stories about inmates requesting help as they went into labor, and their pleas being ignored
    • Some inmates have not been transported in time and gave birth while in the facility and with minimal medical services available
    • For others, they suffered through a miscarriage and were denied services since it was assumed nothing could be done
  • Shackling Policies
    • In most states, shackling is banned during labor and delivery, as well as transport
    • These policies are inconsistently enforced, with many inmates still shackled throughout their pregnancy
    • Shackling during birth can be both painful, and traumatic


  • Breastfeeding and Lactation
    • Most correctional facilities do not support breastfeeding
    • There are many benefits to breastfeeding, and it is a very personal choice being denied to many mothers
  • Parental Rights
    • More than half of all incarcerated women already have children, and many are single parents
    • For many mothers, incarceration is the first time they are separated from their children
    • Mothers risk losing parental rights to both their existing children and newborn child
  • Separation from the Newborn
    • A child being taken from a mother can be deeply upsetting and lead to emotional or behavioral problems
    • This process can be traumatizing to mothers, and make them more likely to return to jail
  • Motherhood
    • Many struggle to develop strong bonds with their child or struggle to establish their role as a mother
    • Others identified that their parenting choices were taken away, and they felt removed from motherhood

This list of challenges does not do justice to the mothers who have had to live through being pregnant while incarcerated. If you are interested in their stories and experiences, consider checking out this recent publication from the Women’s Justice Institute (WJI) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois.

If you or a loved one has suffered life-changing effects from pregnancy while in jail, consider reaching out to one of our experienced attorneys.

Written By: author image Allison Kunerth
author image Allison Kunerth
Allison Kunerth, Ph.D. earned her Ph.D. in Public Health Studies at Saint Louis University. She also earned a P.S.M. in Biology at Illinois Institute of Technology, and an M.S. in Biosecurity and and Disaster Preparedness at Saint Louis University. Doctor Kunerth earned a B.S. in General Science at University of Oregon. Doctor Kunerth has worked as a writer, data analyst, communicable disease planner, program analyst, and laboratory technician. She has served in the military since 2010, currently serving as a Medical Service Corps Officer, with the rank of Captain, in the United States Army Reserve. Doctor Kunerth has published extensively, being either the primary or contributing author to approximately fifteen journal publications. Doctor Kunerth has also been the primary or co-presenter for approximately fourteen poster presentations. She has worked with the Lane County Public Health Advisory Committee, International Society of Disease Surveillance, and Saint Louis Regional Radiological Response Medical Reserve Corps.