Only a small handful of lockups around the country let new moms who are behind bars breastfeed their infants. But the Bernalillo County jail—the biggest in the state—rolled out a policy that allows female inmates to feed their babies, or to pump milk for them.
The Metropolitan Detention Center is retraining staff to ask all new and expecting moms if they would like to breastfeed or pump milk. Moms will be able to feed their babies during normal visiting hours. Lissa Knudsen of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force said this is an essential right, and the benefits for infants in the short- and long-term prevent other problems down the line.
"They’re especially vulnerable in those first few weeks, right, and even first few months. And that’s when bonding is really established," she said. "When mother and baby are able to bond and attach, that lowers recidivism right? So this is a public safety issue."
Knudsen said when moms are able to connect with their newborns and provide for them, the risk for returning to jail in the future drops.
Bernalillo County’s jail put the policy on the books in mid-April. Knudsen is hoping other jails and prisons will follow suit. A bill to make this shift statewide passed both chambers in 2017 but was pocket-vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.