Background: Postpartum is the most risky period for both mothers and newborn babies. However, existing evidence suggests that utilization of postnatal care is relatively lower when compared to uptake of other similar health care services. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine the perceptions of parents toward the postpartum period and postnatal care in order to deepen our understanding of the maternal care-seeking practices after childbirth.
Methods: A descriptive qualitative study, comprising four focus group discussions with 50 parents aged between 18 and 35 years, was conducted in Malawi between January and March 2014. Only young men and women who had either given birth or fathered a baby within 12 months prior to the study were eligible to participate in this study. This was to ensure that only participants who had recent first-hand postpartum experience were included. Local leaders purposively identified all parents who met the inclusion criteria and then simple random sampling was used to select participants from this pool of parents. Data analysis followed the six steps of thematic approach developed by Braun and Clarke, and NVivo software aided the process.
Findings: The parents interviewed described the various factors relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum periods that may possibly influence uptake of postnatal care. These factors were categorized into the following three themes: beliefs about the causes of maternal morbidity and mortality; risks associated with the pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum periods; and the importance of and barriers to postnatal care. Most participants perceived pregnancy and childbirth as the most risky periods to women, and their understanding of the causes of maternal death differed considerably from the existing evidence. In addition, segregation of mother and baby care in the clinics was identified as one of the potential barriers to postnatal care.
Conclusion: The study findings suggest that parents' perception of the postpartum period and postnatal care as well as their knowledge of maternal morbidity and mortality play a vital role in the uptake of postnatal care. The study has also established that lack of knowledge of postnatal care, long waiting time for treatment, and separation of the mother and baby care in clinics are some of the key barriers to postnatal care. We recommend massive maternal health education programs as well as the integration of all postdelivery health care services provided in clinics, so that mothers and neonates receive health care together.
Keywords: barriers to postnatal care; health belief model; health-seeking behavior; qualitative research.