Pilot part of effort to better support pregnant women who are incarcerated as they prepare for childbirth and through reentry to return to their children, families, and communities
First Lady Frances Wolf and the departments of Corrections (DOC) and Human Services (DHS), along with the Tuttleman Foundation and Genesis Birth Services, today announced a new partnership that is bringing doula services to women who are pregnant while incarcerated. The goal of the program is to support mothers through a difficult and vulnerable period and empower them as they prepare to reenter their communities.
“Pregnancy is an incredibly rewarding period for a mother, but it also can be a physically and emotionally challenging time of change where a mother must monitor not just her own health and wellbeing, but that of her child. Going through this critical time while incarcerated separates a woman from her support network and normal care providers, and we must be sure that we are doing all we can to empower mothers and support their individual needs and preferences through this time,” said First Lady Frances Wolf.
Funded through the Tuttleman Foundation, the doula pilot at SCI Muncy is a first step in expanding pregnancy and parenting supports for women incarcerated in DOC facilities.
Doulas are trained birthing and postpartum support professionals who work with expecting and new mothers to provide non-clinical physical and emotional support through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period. They work with mothers to help them prepare for childbirth, to make a birthing plan and plans for the postpartum recovery and care and support the mother and infant as they navigate nursing and feeding, perinatal depression and anxiety, and other milestones through pregnancy and postpartum.
“DHS exists to help facilitate the health and wellbeing of the Pennsylvanians we serve – our children, parents, grandparents, and other loved ones, and maybe one day, each of us. I believe that obligation extends further than those currently receiving care or services. We want all children to grow and thrive, and we want parents to know that they are supported through every step of this journey,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “Offering doula services to women who are incarcerated will give them the advocate they deserve to help them through their pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. It also helps to foster a continued connection with their children and families that will be beneficial as they reenter their communities and parent in person. This support will allow us to help both mother and child throughout their lives, and I am grateful to the DOC, Tuttleman Foundation, and Genesis Birth Services for helping us make this possible.”
Embedding doula services as part of SCI Muncy’s pregnancy and parent services will give pregnant women who are incarcerated an advocate to assist with their care and support during this vulnerable period. Doulas can also help maintain connection between women and their families outside the SCI, providing an additional layer that will help the mother when she reenters her home and community. This support network will also help connect the mother and family to additional services like home visiting, assistance paying for child care, cash assistance, and other family supports overseen by DHS in Pennsylvania.
“Improving outcomes for pregnant and postpartum incarcerated women and their children has the potential to positively impact communities throughout the commonwealth,” said DOC Acting Secretary George Little. “Doulas bring a unique and valuable skillset and experience that make them a welcome addition to the health care team at SCI Muncy.”
Positive impacts of doula care are often greater for pregnant women who are first-time mothers, lower income, or experience language or cultural barriers in the health care system. Through their advocacy and education, doulas can help mothers from underserved communities vocalize their needs and preferences through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. While doula services are currently not billable through Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance (MA) program, DHS is working to expand access to doula services for mothers covered through MA. Each of Pennsylvania’s MA managed care organizations and many birthing hospitals in Pennsylvania have programs to connect pregnant women to the support and education doulas provide.
“Viewing parents as more than their circumstance by providing access to supportive resources such birth and postpartum Doulas while both incarcerated and in the community will be instrumental in improving maternal, morbidity and infant health outcomes within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond,” said Gerria Coffee, Founder of Genesis Birth Services. “I feel my partnership with the Department of Corrections and DHS through Genesis Birth Services is not only an honor and a privilege, but a responsibility to the community.”
“When our son was born my wife suffered from severe complications after a traumatic delivery. In those trying moments we felt alone and scared and didn’t know where to turn. And still, we had it better than most. When an incarcerated mother gives birth, most of the time, they are alone, scared, and without any support or family by their side,” said Max Tuttleman of the Tuttleman Foundation. “Doulas offer that crucial support to families and individuals. Birth is a highly traumatic, emotionally charged time in itself and having an expert there to advise, support, and hold one’s hand is immeasurably helpful. Incarcerated mothers deserve better and we are grateful to our partners that helped us make this pilot possible.”
“I’m glad to see that the Administration is recognizing the importance of doulas in the fight to reduce maternal mortality and improve birthing outcomes for birthing people and children including incarcerated women” said Representative Morgan Cephas. “I am also glad to see collaboration amongst Departments and public and private partners which is necessary to make meaningful impact for Pennsylvanians on this issue and others. We now have an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum to pass legislation in the House or Senate to include Medicaid coverage for doulas for all birthing people, and the full Dignity for Incarcerated Women bill to show compassion for the unique circumstances that these women face.”
First Lady Wolf is focused on increasing support for women with experience in the criminal justice system as they reenter their communities. Learn more about this work and the importance of maternal health supports for women reentering.
Learn more about SCI Muncy here.
Learn more about DHS’ work to support pregnant and postpartum people and newborns.