Factors that influence uptake of routine postnatal care: Findings on women’s perspectives from a qualitative evidence synthesis

Sacks, Emma, Finlayson, Kenneth William orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-1287-7630, Brizuela, Vanessa, Crossland, Nicola orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1063-8123, Ziegler, Daniela, Sauvé, Caroline, Langlois, Étienne V., Javadi, Dena, Downe, Soo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2848-2550 et al (2022) Factors that influence uptake of routine postnatal care: Findings on women’s perspectives from a qualitative evidence synthesis. PLOS ONE, 17 (8).

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0270264


Effective postnatal care is important for optimal care of women and newborns–to promote health and wellbeing, identify and treat clinical and psychosocial concerns, and to provide support for families. Yet uptake of formal postnatal care services is low and inequitable in many countries. As part of a larger study examining the views of women, partners, and families requiring both routine and specialised care, we analysed a subset of data on the views and experiences of women related to routine postnatal care.

We undertook a qualitative evidence synthesis, using a framework analysis approach. We included studies published up to December 2019 with extractable qualitative data, with no language restriction. We focused on women in the general population and their accounts of routine postnatal care utilization. We searched MEDLINE, PUBMED, CINAHL, EMBASE, EBM-Reviews, and grey literature. Two reviewers screened each study independently; inclusion was agreed by consensus. Data abstraction and scientific quality assessment were carried out using a study-specific extraction form and established quality assessment tools. The analysis framework was developed a priori based on previous knowledge and research on the topic and adapted. Due to the number of included texts, the final synthesis was developed inductively from the initial framework by iterative sampling of the included studies, until data saturation was achieved. Findings are presented by high versus low/middle income country, and by confidence in the finding, applying the GRADE-CERQual approach.

Findings: Of 12,678 papers, 512 met the inclusion criteria; 59 articles were sampled for analysis. Five themes were identified: access and availability; physical and human resources; external influences; social norms; and experience of care. High confidence study findings included the perceived low value of postnatal care for healthy women and infants; concerns around access and quality of care; and women’s desire for more emotional and psychosocial support during the postnatal period. These findings highlight multiple missed opportunities for postnatal care promotion and ensuring continuity of care.

Factors that influence women’s utilization of postnatal care are interlinked, and include access, quality, and social norms. Many women recognised the specific challenges of the postnatal period and emphasised the need for emotional and psychosocial support in this time, in addition to clinical care. While this is likely a universal need, studies on mental health needs have predominantly been conducted in high-income settings. Postnatal care programmes and related research should consider these multiple drivers and multi-faceted needs, and the holistic postpartum needs of women and their families should be studied in a wider range of settings. Registration: This protocol is registered in the PROSPERO database for systematic reviews: CRD42019139183.

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