What is quality in maternal and neonatal health care?

Midwifery. 2012 Oct;28(5):e676-83. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2011.09.003. Epub 2011 Oct 20.


Objective: to review published papers and reports examining quality of care in maternal and newborn health to identify definitions and models of quality of care.

Design: literature review.

Search strategy: electronic search of MEDLINE and organisational databases for literature describing definitions and models of quality used in health care and maternal and newborn health care. Relevant papers and reports were reviewed and summarised.

Findings: there is no universally accepted definition of quality of care. The multi-faceted nature of quality is widely acknowledged. In the literature quality of care is described: from the perspective of health care providers, managers and patients; dimensions within the health care system; using elements such as safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, timeliness, equity and efficiency; and through the provision of care and experience of care.

Key conclusions: the importance of ensuring good quality of care for women and newborn babies is well recognised in the literature, however, there is currently no agreed single and comprehensive definition described. Several models were identified, which can be combined to form a comprehensive framework to help define and assess quality of care or lack of quality. Approaches to quality of care that are specifically important for maternal and newborn health were identified and include a rights based approach, adopting care that is evidence-based, consideration of the mother and baby as interdependent and the fact that pregnancy is on the whole a healthy state.

Implications for practice: a model of quality of maternal and newborn health care using perspectives, characteristics, dimensions of the system and elements of quality of care specific to maternal and newborn health is proposed, which can be used as a basis for developing quality improvement strategies and activities, and incorporating quality into existing programmes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Maternal Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / prevention & control
  • Patient Safety
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*