In 1996, after a high profile campaign to end the use of handcuffs on female prisoners during labour, Sheila Kitzinger, the well known childbirth sociologist, wrote an article about women prisoners giving birth without support from friends or family. Sheila’s article inspired a small group of London-based antenatal teachers to set up the ‘Holloway Doula Group’. The group expanded to become Birth Companions and we are now a registered charity with a team of staff and volunteers.
Since 1996, we have expanded our services to meet the various needs we had identified. As well as providing support during birth, we now work with women during pregnancy and in the postnatal period. We worked in HMP Holloway for 20 years until its closure in 2016. We now run a weekly groups for pregnant women and new mothers in Bronzefield and Peterborough Prisons. Birth Companions became aware of the importance of supporting mothers who wished to breastfeed and created a part-time Breastfeeding Supporter post to meet this need. We have responded to the needs of women who are released during pregnancy and early parenthood with our Community Link project and also now work with women in the community who are vulnerable and isolated around the time birth and may not have been in prison.