Cultural childbirth practices and beliefs in Zambia

Type Journal Article - Journal of advanced nursing
Title Cultural childbirth practices and beliefs in Zambia
Volume 43
Issue 3
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2003
Page numbers 263-274
Background. Zambia, one of the world's poorest countries, also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Most pregnant women in Zambia (96%) attend antenatal care, while 53% deliver at home. This may be related to socio-economic and cultural factors, but cultural childbirth practices and beliefs in Zambia have been little documented.

Aim. The aim of this study was to explore cultural childbirth practices and beliefs in Zambia as related by women accompanying labouring women to maternity units. These social support women were also interviewed about their views on providing companionship to labouring women.

Methods. Thirty-six women accompanying labouring women to urban and rural maternity units in Zambia were interviewed A thematic guide with closed and open-ended questions was used. EPI INFO, an epidemiological statistical software package, was used to analyse the quantitative data; qualitative data were analysed using content analysis.

Findings. Eighteen of the women considered themselves to be mbusas, or traditional birth assistants and the rest said that they followed labouring women to maternity units. Those who considered themselves traditional birth assistants advised childbearing women on appropriate cultural childbirth practices and assisted with deliveries at home. They also advised women on the use of traditional medicine, for example, to widen the birth canal and to precipitate labour. If something went wrong during labour, they relied on traditional beliefs and witchcraft to explain the mishap and expected the woman in labour to confess her purported ‘bad’ behaviour. Twelve of the women were in favour of providing support to labouring women in maternity units and learning about childbirth care from midwives.

Conclusion. These social support women, including those who considered themselves as mbusas, lacked understanding of the causes of obstetric complications during childbirth, and had inadequate knowledge of the appropriate management of labour. Culturally-specific knowledge from this study should be used to guide policy-makers and health planners in the future development of safe motherhood initiatives in developing countries. Midwives have a unique opportunity to ensure that care given during childbirth is clinically safe and culturally sensitive.

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