New Mexico looks to promote breastfeeding from prison
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal to encourage incarcerated mothers to provide breast milk to their infant children won the endorsement Monday of a panel of lawmakers.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, would require a new breastfeeding policy for all correctional facilities in the state, with provisions for women to pump and store breast milk for same-day delivery to infants or toddlers on the outside.
Sponsors and the state Department of Health say the bill has the potential to improve the health of especially vulnerable infants and reduce health care costs.
The initiative would create training procedures for corrections officers and jail staff who oversee pregnant or lactating inmates, with policies posted for inmates to see in areas of medical care.
It was unclear how many women and children might be affected by the proposal.
There currently are between 700 and 800 female inmates in state prisons, with at least as many held at local detention centers. Pregnancy rates among female inmates nationwide average between 6 percent and 10 percent, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Maestas Barnes said the state does not provide nursing facilities for mothers in state custody to breast-feed their children directly, but the legislation could represent a first step in that direction. The Corrections Department did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, expressed concern that the bill was not accompanied by new funding, cautioning that storing and tracking breastmilk could drive up costs to the state.
Carol L’Esperance, chairwoman of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, said nonprofit advocacy groups already provide logistical support to help incarcerated women store and transport milk.
A similar proposal in 2015 that failed to win approval went a step further by suggesting courts take into account a woman’s pregnancy and lactation status when determining whether she is eligible for release.