Qualitative study of pregnancy and childbirth experiences in Somalian women resident in Sweden


Correspondence: Dr B. Essén, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lund University, University Hospital MAS, S-20502 Malmö, Sweden.


Objective To explore the attitudes, strategies and habits of Somalian immigrant women related to pregnancy and childbirth, in order to gain an understanding as to how cultural factors might affect perinatal outcome.

Methods Interpreter assisted qualitative in depth interviews around topics such as attitudes and strategies regarding childbirth.

Participants Fifteen women from the Somalian community in a city in Sweden, between the ages of 20 and 55 years with delivery experience in Somalia and Sweden.

Results The interviews describe how the women themselves perceived their experiences of childbirth in the migrant situation. Many voluntarily decreased food intake in order to have a smaller fetus, an easier delivery and to avoid caesarean section. The participants considered a safe delivery to be the same as a normal vaginal delivery They reduced food intake in order to diminish the growth of the fetus, thereby avoiding caesarean section and mortality. The practice of food intake reduction, while rational for the participants when in Somalia, was found less rational in Sweden and may lead to suboptimal obstetric surveillance.

Conclusions Somalian women have childbirth strategies that differ from those of Swedish women. These strategies should be seen as ‘survival behaviours’ related to their background in an environment with high maternal mortality. The hypothesis generated is that there is a relationship between the strategies during pregnancy and adverse perinatal outcome among Somalian immigrants. Considering the strong association of the habits to safe birth, it seems doubtful whether the women will change their habits as long as health care providers are unaware of their motives. We suggest a more culturally sensitive perinatal surveillance.