Birth Supporters experiences of attending prisoners being compulsorily separated from their new-born babies

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There is growing evidence demonstrating increased mental ill-health in women compulsorily separated from their babies. For imprisoned women, the risk of self-harm and suicide may be further exacerbated. Birth supporters caring voluntarily for women in prison having their babies removed is valued and beneficial for wellbeing. Little is known about the effects on those supporting women in these circumstances. The aim of this study was to better understand the experiences of birth supporters when caring for imprisoned women experiencing compulsory separation from their babies. A qualitative approach explored the experiences of 12 birth supporters through: one to one in-depth online interviews. A thematic analytical method was utilised to analyse the data. Four key themes resulted from thematic analysis: vicarious trauma, transference of pain, standout cases and support networks. Birth supporters witnessing traumatic events such as the separation of imprisoned mother from her new-born baby may need additional supervision and therapeutic support. Birth supporters may experience Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) and appropriate support and debriefing should be afforded to them equal to paid health and social care staff. The main argument of this paper is that strong support networks can serve as a benchmark for helping individuals affected by vicarious trauma, particularly in complex situations involving women who are being compulsorily separated from their babies. Due to the value clearly placed upon those who do volunteer by women, this kind of support should be consistent across criminal justice settings especially considering the impact on women’s mental health and wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Health Promotion and Education
Early online date24 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2023


  • Birth supporters
  • Compulsory Separation
  • Mothers
  • Newborn baby
  • Prison


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