Women say that families and communities are their primary source of support postnatally (international)

support postnatally

To assist with the World Health Organisation’s new postnatal guideline, currently being developed, a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies of what women want in the postnatal period has been published, using 36 studies.

Family emerges as an important theme, though the inclusion criteria for studies did not include the word, family.

Under the theme “it takes a community to raise a mother”, the researchers conclude that family and local community are the “primary source of support” in the postnatal period.

Importance of practical and emotional support from partner, family and elders – Most women greatly value the multiple levels of support they receive from their partner, parents and, in certain contexts, community elders. Women appreciate the practical help with the baby’s care needs and household tasks as well as emotional support to help them deal with the myriad of emotions that arise during the postnatal period. Some women occasionally report negative experiences (e.g. lack of breastfeeding support, interference or undermining behaviour).”

The researchers recommend engagement with families: “To ensure that all women experience a positive postnatal experience, families and communities should be informed, educated and mobilised so that women receive realistic information, appropriate reassurance, and culturally appropriate validation.” The researchers recommend additional professional support for women who do not have supportive families and/or communities.

The researchers write that the postnatal period is a neglected phase of maternity care compared to antenatal and intrapartum care. Despite some innovations, such as m-health facilities, postnatal support is hugely variable in low and middle income countries and many women fail to receive the most basic pre-discharge check-up.

The perspective of the review, driven by the selection criteria, is woman-centred, not family-centred. The woman-centred approach, however, shows that, for many women, sharing their postnatal experience with their partner/family/community is important. This validates a family centred approach as something that responds to women’s own preferences and needs. In line with this, another separate review is being carried out to inform the new WHO postnatal guideline. This focuses on coparenting, parental relationships and the role of other carers as partners (not just helpers) in caring and in the home.


Finlayson K, Crossland N, Bonet M & Soo Downe, What matters to women in the postnatal period: A meta-synthesis of qualitative studies, PLoS ONE 15.4

Header photo: Lee Martin. Creative Commons.