Background: Early and frequent antenatal care attendance during pregnancy is important to identify and mitigate risk factors in pregnancy and to encourage women to have a skilled attendant at childbirth. However, many pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa start antenatal care attendance late, particularly adolescent pregnant women. Therefore they do not fully benefit from its preventive and curative services. This study assesses the timing of adult and adolescent pregnant women's first antenatal care visit and identifies factors influencing early and late attendance.
Methods: The study was conducted in the Ulanga and Kilombero rural Demographic Surveillance area in south-eastern Tanzania in 2008. Qualitative exploratory studies informed the design of a structured questionnaire. A total of 440 women who attended antenatal care participated in exit interviews. Socio-demographic, social, perception- and service related factors were analysed for associations with timing of antenatal care initiation using regression analysis.
Results: The majority of pregnant women initiated antenatal care attendance with an average of 5 gestational months. Belonging to the Sukuma ethnic group compared to other ethnic groups such as the Pogoro, Mhehe, Mgindo and others, perceived poor quality of care, late recognition of pregnancy and not being supported by the husband or partner were identified as factors associated with a later antenatal care enrolment (p < 0.05). Primiparity and previous experience of a miscarriage or stillbirth were associated with an earlier antenatal care attendance (p < 0.05). Adolescent pregnant women started antenatal care no later than adult pregnant women despite being more likely to be single.
Conclusions: Factors including poor quality of care, lack of awareness about the health benefit of antenatal care, late recognition of pregnancy, and social and economic factors may influence timing of antenatal care. Community-based interventions are needed that involve men, and need to be combined with interventions that target improving the quality, content and outreach of antenatal care services to enhance early antenatal care enrolment among pregnant women.