When women deliver at home without a skilled birth attendant: A qualitative study on the role of health care systems in the increasing home births among rural women in southwestern uganda

Academic Article


  • Background: Uganda’s maternal mortality remains unacceptably high, with thousands of women and newborns still dying of preventable deaths from pregnancy and childbirth-related complica-tions. Globally, Antenatal care (ANC) attendance has been associated with improved rates of skilled births. However, despite the fact that over 95% of women in Uganda attend at least one ANC, over 30% of women still deliver at home alone, or in the presence of an unskilled birth attendant, with many choosing to come to hospital after experiencing a complication. We explored barriers to women’s decisions to deliver in a health care facility among postpartum women in rural southwestern Uganda, to ultimately inform interventions aimed at improving skilled facility births. Methods: Between December 2018 and March 2019, we conducted in-depth qualitative face-to-face interviews with 30 post-partum women in rural southwestern Uganda. The purposeful sample was intended to represent women with differing experiences of pregnancy, delivery, and antenatal care. We included 15 adult women who had delivered from their homes and 15 who had delivered from a health facility in the previous 3 months. Women were recruited from 10 villages within 20 km of a regional referral hospital. Interviews were conducted and digitally recorded in a private setting by a trained native speaker to elicit experiences of pregnancy and birth. Translated transcripts were generated and coded. Coded data were iteratively reviewed and sorted to derive descriptive categories using an inductive content analytic approach. Results: Regardless of where they decided to give birth, women wished to deliver in a supportive, respectful, responsive and loving environment. The data revealed six key barriers to women’s decisions to deliver from a health care facility: 1) Fear of unresponsive care, fueling a fear of being neglected or abandoned while at the facility; 2) fear of embarrassment and mistreatment by health care providers; 3) low perception of risk associated with pregnancy and childbirth; 4) preferences for particular birthing positions and their outcome expectations; 5) perceived lack of privacy in public facilities; and 6) perceived poor clinical and interpersonal skills of health providers to adequately explain birthing procedures or support expectant or laboring women and their newborn. Conclusion: Anticipation of unsupportive, unresponsive, disrespectful treatment, and a perceived lack of tolerance for simple, non-harmful traditions prevent women from delivering at health facilities. Building better interpersonal relationships between patients and providers within health systems could reinforce trust, improve patient–provider interaction, and facilitate useful information transfer during ANC and delivery visits. These expectations are important considerations in developing supportive health care systems that provide acceptable patient-friendly care. These findings are indicative of the vital need for midwives and other health care providers to have additional training in the role of communication and dignity in delivery of quality health care.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Atukunda EC; Mugyenyi GR; Obua C; Musiimenta A; Najjuma JN; Agaba E; Ware NC; Matthews LT
  • Start Page

  • 423
  • End Page

  • 434
  • Volume

  • 12