Perinatal health of refugee and asylum-seeking women in Sweden 2014-17: a register-based cohort study

Eur J Public Health. 2019 Dec 1;29(6):1048-1055. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckz120.


Background: An increasing number of migrants have fled armed conflict, persecution and deteriorating living conditions, many of whom have also endured risky migration journeys to reach Europe. Despite this, little is known about the perinatal health of migrant women who are particularly vulnerable, such as refugees, asylum-seekers, and undocumented migrants, and their access to perinatal care in the host country.

Methods: Using the Swedish Pregnancy Register, we analyzed indicators of perinatal health and health care usage in 31 897 migrant women from the top five refugee countries of origin between 2014 and 2017. We also compared them to native-born Swedish women.

Results: Compared to Swedish-born women, migrant women from Syria, Iraq, Somali, Eritrea and Afghanistan had higher risks of poor self-rated health, gestational diabetes, stillbirth and infants with low birthweight. Within the migrant population, asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants had a higher risk of poor maternal self-rated health than refugee women with residency, with an adjusted risk ratio (RR) of 1.84 and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) of 1.72-1.97. They also had a higher risk of preterm birth (RR 1.47, 95% CI 1.21-1.79), inadequate antenatal care (RR 2.56, 95% CI 2.27-2.89) and missed postpartum care visits (RR 1.15, 95% CI 1.10-1.22).

Conclusion: Refugee, asylum-seeking and undocumented migrant women were vulnerable during pregnancy and childbirth. Living without residence permits negatively affected self-rated health, pregnancy and birth outcomes in asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. Pregnant migrant women's special needs should be addressed by those involved in the asylum reception process and by health care providers.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Eritrea / ethnology
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Middle East / ethnology
  • Perinatal Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Refugees*
  • Registries
  • Somalia / ethnology
  • Sweden
  • Women's Health / ethnology*
  • Young Adult