Women's Participation in Decision-Making in Maternity Care: A Qualitative Exploration of Clients' Health Literacy Skills and Needs for Support

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 27;18(3):1130. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18031130.


Shared decision-making requires adequate functional health literacy (HL) skills from clients to understand information, as well as interactive and critical HL skills to obtain, appraise and apply information about available options. This study aimed to explore women's HL skills and needs for support regarding shared decision-making in maternity care. In-depth interviews were held among women in Dutch maternity care who scored low (n = 10) and high (n = 13) on basic health literacy screening test(s). HL skills and perceived needs for support were identified through thematic analysis. Women appeared to be highly engaged in the decision-making process. They mentioned searching and selecting general information about pregnancy and labor, constructing their preferences based on their own pre-existing knowledge and experiences and by discussions with partners and significant others. However, women with low basic skills and primigravida perceived difficulties in finding reliable information, understanding probabilistic information, constructing preferences based on benefit/harm information and preparing for consultations. Women also emphasized dealing with uncertainties, changing circumstances of pregnancy and labor, and emotions. Maternity care professionals could further support clients by guiding them towards reliable information. To facilitate participation in decision-making, preparing women for consultations (e.g., agenda setting) and supporting them in a timely manner to understand benefit/harm information seem important.

Keywords: client participation; decision-making; health literacy; maternity care; needs assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services*
  • Obstetrics*
  • Pregnancy