Background: Perinatal mortality is unacceptably high in low-income countries, including Malawi. Use of family planning to encourage birth spacing may optimize outcomes for subsequent pregnancies. However, the reproductive desires and family planning knowledge of women who have experienced a stillbirth or neonatal death in resource-poor settings are not well understood.
Methods: We examined family planning knowledge, contraceptive practices and barrier to contraceptive use among women who had experienced a poor obstetric outcome at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. We performed individual in-depth interviews or through focus group discussion with women who had experienced a stillbirth or early neonatal death, 4-8 weeks after their delivery. NVivo software was used to analyze data for recurrent patterns and themes, and central ideas were extracted to identify the data's core meanings.
Results: We interviewed 46 women who had experienced a poor obstetric outcome. Overall, women were aware of both modern and traditional family planning methods, and the majority were in favour of modern versus traditional methods. They also had knowledge about risks for future complications if they have a short inter-pregnancy interval. However, they faced conflict about whether to use family planning methods for their health, as suggested by their relatives and friends, or to have another child to fulfil their husband's desire, especially among those with no living child. Some had fear about side effects, while others were concerned that use of family planning methods without involving the husband could bring misunderstandings within the family. A number of women had misconceptions about family planning methods, which also served as a barrier to their use.
Conclusion: Although women with a poor obstetric outcome are aware of modern family planning and its health benefits after their delivery, their decision to use a method is complicated by their own desire to protect their own health and the husband's desire for a child, particularly among those women with no living children coupled with fear of side effects and misconceptions. These findings suggest the importance of counselling both the affected woman and her husband about the benefits of family planning use, even after a poor obstetric outcome, to jointly choose the method they feel comfortable to use and dispel any misconceptions.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02674542.
Keywords: Family planning; Malawi; Misconceptions; Neonatal death; Poor obstetric outcome; Reproductive desire; Stillbirth.