Open Access Open Badges Research article

Understanding delayed access to antenatal care: a qualitative interview study

Rosalind Haddrill1, Georgina L Jones1*, Caroline A Mitchell2 and Dilly OC Anumba3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Regent Court, 30 Regent Street, Sheffield S1 4DA, UK

2 Academic Unit of Primary Medical Care, Samuel Fox House, Northern General Hospital, University of Sheffield, Herries Road, Sheffield S5 7AU, UK

3 Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, University of Sheffield, The Jessop Wing, Tree Root Walk, Sheffield S10 2SF, UK

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:207  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-207

Published: 16 June 2014



Delayed access to antenatal care ('late booking’) has been linked to increased maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity. The aim of this qualitative study was to understand why some women are late to access antenatal care.


27 women presenting after 19 completed weeks gestation for their first hospital booking appointment were interviewed, using a semi-structured format, in community and maternity hospital settings in South Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and entered onto NVivo 8 software. An interdisciplinary, iterative, thematic analysis was undertaken.


The late booking women were diverse in terms of: age (15–37 years); parity (0–4); socioeconomic status; educational attainment and ethnicity. Three key themes relating to late booking were identified from our data: 1) 'not knowing’: realisation (absence of classic symptoms, misinterpretation); belief (age, subfertility, using contraception, lay hindrance); 2) 'knowing’: avoidance (ambivalence, fear, self-care); postponement (fear, location, not valuing care, self-care); and 3) 'delayed’ (professional and system failures, knowledge/empowerment issues).


Whilst vulnerable groups are strongly represented in this study, women do not always fit a socio-cultural stereotype of a 'late booker’. We report a new taxonomy of more complex reasons for late antenatal booking than the prevalent concepts of denial, concealment and disadvantage. Explanatory sub-themes are also discussed, which relate to psychological, empowerment and socio-cultural factors. These include poor reproductive health knowledge and delayed recognition of pregnancy, the influence of a pregnancy 'mindset’ and previous pregnancy experience, and the perceived value of antenatal care. The study also highlights deficiencies in early pregnancy diagnosis and service organisation. These issues should be considered by practitioners and service commissioners in order to promote timely antenatal care for all women.

Pregnancy; Antenatal care; Access; Late booking; Qualitative study