Avoiding obstetrical interventions among US-based Somali migrant women: a qualitative study

Kafuli Agbemenu, Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, Gretchen Ely, Crista Johnson-Agbakwu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Objective: Somali refugee women are known to have poor health-seeking behavior with a higher proportion of adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to US-born women. Yet unknown is how they avoid obstetrical interventions. This study sought to identify perceived protective mechanisms used to avoid obstetric interventions as well as the underpinning factors that influence aversion to obstetrical interventions by Somali refugee women. Design: A descriptive, exploratory qualitative study purposively sampled Somali refugee women recruited via snowball technique in Franklin County, Ohio, United States. Data were collected through audio-recordings of individual interviews and focus groups conducted in English and Somali languages. The collected data were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analyses. Results: Forty Somali refugee women aged 18–42 years were recruited. Participants reported engaging in four perceived protective mechanisms to avoid obstetrical interventions during pregnancy and childbirth: (1) intentionally not seeking or misleading prenatal care, (2) changing hospitals and/or providers, (3) delayed hospital arrival during labor, and (4) refusal of care. Underpinning all four avoidance mechanisms were their significant fear of obstetrical interventions, and perceived lack of choice in their care processes as influenced by cultural and/or religious beliefs, feeling judged or undervalued by service providers, and a lack of privacy provided to them while receiving care. Conclusion: Like every woman, Somali women also have a right to choose or refuse care. If the intention is to improve access to and experiences with care for this population, building trust, addressing their fears and concerns, and respecting their culture is a critical first step. This should be well established prior to the need for critical decisions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth wherein Somali women may feel compelled to refuse necessary obstetrical care. Bridging gaps between Somali women and their providers is key to advance health equity for this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1082-1097
Number of pages16
JournalEthnicity and Health
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021


  • Immigrant
  • Somali women
  • avoidance
  • community-based participatory research
  • maternal health
  • migrant
  • obstetric care
  • refugee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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