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Open Access Research article

Informal support to first-parents after childbirth: a qualitative study in low-income suburbs of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Columba K Mbekenga12*, Andrea B Pembe3, Kyllike Christensson4, Elisabeth Darj2 and Pia Olsson2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Health Nursing, School of Nursing, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

2 Department of Women's and Children's Health, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, School of Medicine, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

4 Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2011, 11:98  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-98

Published: 29 November 2011

Abstract

Background

In Tanzania, and many sub-Saharan African countries, postpartum health programs have received less attention compared to other maternity care programs and therefore new parents rely on informal support. Knowledge on how informal support is understood by its stakeholders to be able to improve the health in families after childbirth is required. This study aimed to explore discourses on health related informal support to first-time parents after childbirth in low-income suburbs of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Methods

Thirteen focus group discussions with first-time parents and female and male informal supporters were analysed by discourse analysis.

Results

The dominant discourse was that after childbirth a first time mother needed and should be provided with support for care of the infant, herself and the household work by the maternal or paternal mother or other close and extended family members. In their absence, neighbours and friends were described as reconstructing informal support. Informal support was provided conditionally, where poor socio-economic status and non-adherence to social norms risked poor support. Support to new fathers was constructed as less prominent, provided mainly by older men and focused on economy and sexual matters. The discourse conveyed stereotypic gender roles with women described as family caretakers and men as final decision-makers and financial providers. The informal supporters regulated the first-time parents' contacts with other sources of support.

Conclusions

Strong and authoritative informal support networks appear to persist. However, poverty and non-adherence to social norms was understood as resulting in less support. Family health in this context would be improved by capitalising on existing informal support networks while discouraging norms promoting harmful practices and attending to the poorest. Upholding stereotypic notions of femininity and masculinity implies great burden of care for the women and delimited male involvement. Men's involvement in reproductive and child health programmes has the potential for improving family health after childbirth. The discourses conveyed contradicting messages that may be a source of worry and confusion for the new parents. Recognition, respect and raising awareness for different social actors' competencies and limitations can potentially create a health-promoting environment among families after childbirth.