Seeking safety and empathy: Adolescent health seeking behavior during pregnancy and early motherhood in central Uganda
Kirumira, Edward K
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Purpose: To explore adolescent health seeking behavior during pregnancy and early motherhood in order to contribute to health policy formulation and improved access to health care. This will in long-term have an impact on the reduction of morbidity and mortality among adolescent mothers and their newborns. Methods: This was a qualitative study that employed focus group discussions (FGDs) among adolescent girls (10e19 years) and key informant (KI) interviews with health workers. Age for FGD participants ranged from 16 to 19 years. The FGD participants were recruited while seeking antenatal care for their first pregnancy or immunization service for their first child, not being older than 6 months. Six health facilities were selected. Key informants were purposefully selected on the basis of being in-charge of maternity units. Thirteen FGDs comprising of a total of 92 adolescent girls were conducted. The FGDs were held with homogeneously constituted categories; married pregnant adolescents (5), unmarried pregnant adolescents (3) and married or not married adolescents with children (5). Semi structured interviews were held with six KIs who were in-charge of maternity units of health facilities. Latent content analysis technique was used for data analysis. Results: Two main themes emerged; ‘feeling exposed and powerless’, and ‘seeking safety and empathy’. The categories identified in the first theme were ‘‘the dilemma of becoming an adolescent mother’’ and ‘‘lack of decision power’’. In the second theme the following categories were identified: ‘‘cultural practices and beliefs about birth’’, ‘‘expectations and experiences’’, ‘‘transport, a key determinant to health seeking’’, and ‘‘dealing with constraints’’. Adolescents felt exposed and powerless due to the dilemma of early motherhood and lack of decision making power. The adolescent mothers seemed to be in continuous quest for safety and empathy. In so doing they are part of cultural practices and beliefs about birth. They had expectations about the health care services but their experiences of the services were rather negative. Transport was a key determinant for health seeking and adolescents to some extent had learnt how to cope with constraints they face. Conclusion and implications: Pregnant adolescents seek health care in both modern and traditional health sectors in order to get safety and empathy. However, our findings indicate that they mostly utilize the traditional sector because it is most accessible in terms of distance, cost and cultural context. Adolescent mothers are disempowered in decision making because of their pregnancy state which often puts them in dilemma. We therefore suggest that policy makers need to improve health systems(including the traditional sector) especially maternal health services for adolescent girls. Improved infrastructure and attitudes of health worker as well as training in delivery of adolescent health services is critical.