Providers' perceptions of communication and women's autonomy during childbirth: a mixed methods study in Kenya

Reprod Health. 2020 Jun 3;17(1):85. doi: 10.1186/s12978-020-0909-0.


Background: Effective communication and respect for women's autonomy are critical components of person-centered care. Yet, there is limited evidence in low-resource settings on providers' perceptions of the importance and extent of communication and women's autonomy during childbirth. Similarly, few studies have assessed the potential barriers to effective communication and maintenance of women's autonomy during childbirth. We sought to bridge these gaps.

Methods: Data are from a mixed-methods study in Migori County in Western Kenya with 49 maternity providers (32 clinical and 17 non-clinical). Providers were asked structured questions on various aspects of communication and autonomy followed by open ended questions on why certain practices were performed or not. We conducted descriptive analysis of the quantitative data and thematic analysis of the qualitative data.

Results: Despite acknowledging the importance of various aspects of communication and women's autonomy, providers reported incidences of poor communication and lack of respect for women's autonomy: 57% of respondents reported that providers never introduce themselves to women and 38% reported that women are never able to be in the birthing position of their choice. Also, 33% of providers reported that they did not always explain why they are doing exams or procedures and 73% reported that women were not always asked for permission before exams or procedures. The reasons for lack of communication and autonomy fall under three themes with several sub-themes: (1) work environment-perceived lack of time, language barriers, stress and burnout, and facility culture; (2) provider knowledge, intentions, and assumptions-inadequate provider knowledge and skill, forgetfulness and unconscious behaviors, self-protection and comfort, and assumptions about women's knowledge and expectations; and (3) women's ability to demand or command effective communication and respect for their autonomy-women's lack of participation, women's empowerment and provider bias.

Conclusions: Most providers recognize the importance of various aspects of communication and women's autonomy, but they fail to provide it for various reasons. To improve communication and autonomy, we need to address the different factors that negatively affect providers' interactions with women.

Keywords: Autonomy; Communication; Patient-provider interactions; Person-centered care; Person-centered maternity care; Quality of care; Respectful maternity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Communication*
  • Delivery, Obstetric / methods
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Maternal Health Services
  • Parturition*
  • Patient Participation
  • Perception
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional-Patient Relations