An investigation into mistreatment of women during labour and childbirth in maternity care facilities in Uttar Pradesh, India: a mixed methods study

Reprod Health. 2019 Jan 23;16(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s12978-019-0668-y.


Objectives: To investigate the nature and context of mistreatment during labour and childbirth at public and private sector maternity facilities in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Methods: This study analyses mixed-methods data obtained through systematic clinical observations and open-ended comments recorded by the observers to describe care provision for 275 mothers and their newborns at 26 hospitals in three districts of Uttar Pradesh from 26 May to 8 July 2015. We conducted a bivariate descriptive analysis of the quantitative data and used a thematic approach to analyse qualitative data.

Findings: All women in the study encountered at least one indicator of mistreatment. There was a high prevalence of not offering birthing position choice (92%) and routine manual exploration of the uterus (80%) in facilities in both sectors. Private sector facilities performed worse than the public sector for not allowing birth companions (p = 0.02) and for perineal shaving (p = < 0.001), whereas the public sector performed worse for not ensuring adequate privacy (p = < 0.001), not informing women prior to a vaginal examination (p = 0.01) and for physical violence (p = 0.04). Prepared comments by observers provide further contextual insights into the quantitative data, and additional themes of mistreatment, such as deficiencies in infection prevention, lack of analgesia for episiotomy, informal payments and poor hygiene standards at maternity facilities were identified.

Conclusions: Mistreatment of women frequently occurs in both private and public sector facilities. This paper contributes to the literature on mistreatment of women during labour and childbirth at maternity facilities in India by articulating new constructs of overtreatment and under-treatment. There are five key implications of this study. First, a systematic and context-specific effort to measure mistreatment in public and private sector facilities in high burden states in India is required. Second, a training initiative to orient all maternity care personnel to the principles of respectful maternity care would be useful. Third, innovative mechanisms to improve accountability towards respectful maternity care are required. Fourth, participatory community and health system interventions to support respectful maternity care would be useful. Lastly, we note that there needs to be a long-term, sustained investment in health systems so that supportive and enabling work-environments are available to front- line health workers.

Keywords: Abuse; Childbirth; Disrespect; India; Labour; Maternal; Mistreatment; Newborn; Quality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / standards*
  • Humans
  • India
  • Maternal Health Services / standards*
  • Physical Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Health Care / standards*
  • Respect