Birth Companions supports women in prison as well as those who are facing severe disadvantage in the community during pregnancy, birth and early motherhood. They aim to help vulnerable mothers and babies by:
- Improving their mental health and well-being
- Reducing isolation
- Enabling mothers to give their babies the best possible start in life
- Shaping local and national policies and practices that impact mothers and babies
“Without Birth Companions my pregnancy in prison would have been a lonely and worrying experience.”
The women supported by Birth Companions often face a range of issues including mental health problems, substance misuse, a history of domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, experience of detention and human rights violations overseas. They are especially vulnerable during their pregnancies due to the effects of poor health, poverty, lack of support from family and friends and isolation.
In 2013 Birth Companions developed a service in Peterborough in response to a request by midwives from Peterborough City Hospital and other local stakeholders. For expectant mothers in prison, pregnancy and birth can be particularly stressful. They are likely to be anxious about the future for themselves and their baby. Some women might have no one to be with them during labour and may be distressed by the presence of prison officers.
“All my questions and worries were answered. The ladies who run it are so supportive.”
The staff and volunteers at Birth Companions provide intensive practical and emotional support before, during and after birth. Their holistic, enabling and trauma-informed approach helps build trusting relationships with women who may not engage with other services. During antenatal visits, women can access evidence-based information, specialist breast-feeding advice and essential items. They can also write a birth plan and receive emotional support. Continuous support is available during labour, and postnatal support is offered for up to three months.
Through CCF, Birth Companions has just received the second instalment of a £12,000 3-year rolling grant from the Harry Cureton Charitable Trust towards the running costs of their service in Peterborough Prison. In particular, the grant has helped set up weekly pregnancy groups through which Birth Companions delivers an 8-week antenatal course and a 10-week early parenting course to women in the prison. Of the 29 women supported in 2016, 24 received antenatal support in prison, 10 received postnatal support in prison and 15 received breastfeeding support.
“Such a welcoming atmosphere. First time in prison and never felt judged at all.”
The service provided by Birth Companions in Peterborough Prison has been very successful. 100% of the women supported reported improvements in their mental health and wellbeing and 90% felt less isolated and/or accessed other services. 90% felt less worried and 90% felt more confident in making decisions about their pregnancy, birth and motherhood and 88% felt more positive about breastfeeding. All 29 women were satisfied with the support they received to help them give their babies the best possible start in life.
One woman simply said: “I’m so grateful.”
To find out more about Birth Companions and the work they do, visit