The Significance of Breastfeeding to Incarcerated Pregnant Women: An Exploratory Study
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The Significance of Breastfeeding to Incarcerated Pregnant Women: An Exploratory Study

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    Breastfeeding rates of incarcerated women in the United States are unknown but are likely to be low. Little is known about the breastfeeding views and experiences of incarcerated women. This exploratory study examined the breastfeeding knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of pregnant women incarcerated in New York City jails.


    Semistructured interviews were conducted with 20 pregnant women in a New York City jail. Research methods were inspired by grounded theory.


    Three main themes emerged from women’s collective stories about wanting to breastfeed and the challenges that they experienced. First, incarceration removes women from their familiar social and cultural context, which creates uncertainty in their breastfeeding plans. Second, incarceration and the separation from their high-risk lifestyle makes women want a new start in motherhood. Third, being pregnant and planning to breastfeed represent a new start in motherhood and give women the opportunity to redefine their maternal identity and roles.


    Breastfeeding is valued by incarcerated pregnant women and has the potential to contribute to their psychosocial well-being and self-worth as a mother. Understanding the breastfeeding experiences and views of women at high risk for poor pregnancy outcomes and inadequate newborn childcare during periods of incarceration in local jails is important for guiding breastfeeding promotion activities in this transient and vulnerable population. Implications from the findings will be useful to correctional facilities and community providers in planning more definitive studies in similar incarcerated populations.

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