Birth Companions is a unique charity, based in London UK, which provides support to the most vulnerable pregnant women and new mothers in prison and the community, offering antenatal, birth, postnatal and community support.
Excerpts from http://www.birthcompanions.org.uk:
Birth Companions is unlike any other charity. We provide support to vulnerable pregnant women and new mothers who are, have been or are at risk of being detained. We deliver our services in prison and in the community in the greater London area.
The women we support often face a range of issues and challenges including mental health problems, substance misuse, a history of domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, experience of detention and human rights violations overseas. They are particularly vulnerable during their pregnancies due to the effects of poor health, poverty, lack of support from family and friends as well as isolation. We seek to reduce their feelings of alienation and estrangement at a time that should be a milestone in their lives.
Our overall aim is to improve the experience of pregnancy, birth and motherhood for women and ensure the best possible start in life for their new-born babies. We also seek to raise awareness of the needs of the women we work with and to influence changes in policy and law in order to improve conditions of the women we work with.
Midwives working with women in Holloway report that their pregnancies are more complex and high-risk. A UK study showed that women in prison are less healthy than the most socially disadvantaged women in the community. Some women may actually experience improved health when they come to prison but they are still more likely to have difficult pregnancies because of high stress levels, existing physical and mental health issues, and previous experience of abuse and violence, substance misuse and homelessness.
Birth Companions believes that practical and emotional support is particularly important for pregnant women and mothers seperated from small babies who are in prison, because they are one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Britain. Birth Companions visit Holloway prison every week to offer support to pregnant women and mothers recently separated from their babies. We also visit HMP Bronzefield to deliver a weekly pregnancy group and a bi- weekly early parenting gorup on the Mother and Baby Unit there.
If a woman requests support when she goes into labour, a birth companion volunteer will meet her at the hospital and stay with her during labour and birth providing practical and emotional support as well as advocacy if needed. After the birth we support women with feeding and early bonding and help them to contact their family to share news of the birth. Birth Companions visit women postnatally in the hospital and when they return to the prison, often they are the only visitors a woman will have.
Women who have attended the pregnancy group and then had to separate from their babies often continue to attend the group post-separation for further support from Birth Companions and also from their peers. The Birth Companions Breastfeeding Supporter often works with separated mothers who choose to express and store their breastmilk so it can then be sent out to their babies in the community. Many women who are taken into custody are left with no choice but to leave their children behind and this can be a very distressing time for all those concerned. The Breastfeeding Supporter also visits women who were breastfeeding before coming to prison to offer them emotional and practical support.
Our Community Link project provides support for pregnant women and new mothers in the community who are isolated and in need of support. These women may be facing a range of difficulties and issues including immigration and asylum, housing, a history of mental health problems, abuse, and/or substance misuse. Some of the women we work with in the community have also been in Holloway or another prison or they may be at risk of detention. So there are a number of reasons why they may need our support.
Many of the women we work with in the community are foreign nationals with little or no support network. They may have experienced detention in their country of origin and may be seeking asylum in the UK on humanitarian grounds.
Women are given the chance to discuss any concerns they may have. We will attend the birth, if that is her wish, and offer postnatal support through visits, telephone calls and texts following the birth. We can offer practical support with feeding and other aspects of parenting as necessary; this can sometimes include help with providing baby clothes and equipment and small grants for essentials in cases of hardship. We offer to take birth photos for women and also support family members to be involved if this is the mother’s wish.
Birth Companions aims to empower women as far as possible while avoiding dependency, so we help women to build up their own support networks within their communities.