Somalis giving birth in Sweden: a challenge to culture and gender specific values and behaviours

Midwifery. 2000 Jun;16(2):105-15. doi: 10.1054/midw.1999.0197.


Objectives: Giving birth in a foreign country implies going through a life event with little or no access to your own traditions and social support. The aim of this study was to study the childbirth experiences of Somali women and men in Sweden.

Design: Qualitative. Nine women and seven men were interviewed. Data collection was characterised by an openness to new ideas during the interview and the interviews were analysed according to the grounded theory technique.

Findings: The meeting of Somalis with Swedish antenatal and delivery care was a multicultural event. It revealed social, medical, cultural and gender factors advocating space in the arena of childbirth. The Somalis constituted a homogeneous group with regard to their cultural belonging and motives for exile. The subjects were heterogeneous in that they represented a great variety in social and demographic background as well as in experiences, feelings and modes of expression. One striking finding was the Somali man's dramatic entrance into childbirth, which seemed to have a strong impact on the Somali woman's well-being during delivery. The study showed difficulties in getting used to the Swedish model of parenthood and in finding new role divisions in the couple relationship. Some of the subjects had experienced a strengthening of their marriage and an increased understanding of each other. Others commented that various aspects of traditional womanhood and manhood were lost as a result of the unfamiliar gender structures in Sweden.

Conclusion: The Somalis' experiences of childbirth in Sweden can be understood by using the theoretical concept of gender, rather than culture. Our own and other studies show that women and men may have different frames of reference in childbirth, where the women mainly focus on biological circumstances and the men on the social and cultural aspects of birth. The Somali couple were found to be vulnerably positioned, with the professionals having the important role of supporting and empowering Somali parents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Labor, Obstetric / ethnology*
  • Male
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Parents / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Somalia / ethnology
  • Sweden