Cultural beliefs and health-seeking practices: Rural Zambians' views on maternal-newborn care.

1 February, 2021

Dear HIFA-Zambia and CHIFA members,

This is very interesting study that was undertaken in Zambia but will be of interest to health professionals worldwide.

CITATION: Cultural beliefs and health-seeking practices: Rural Zambians' views on maternal-newborn care.

Midwifery. 85:102686, 2020 Jun.

Buser JM; Moyer CA; Boyd CJ; Zulu D; Ngoma-Hazemba A; Mtenje JT; Jones AD; Lori JR.


- Mothers caring for newborns have a maternal dualism between cultural and health system obligations.

- Traditional newborn protective rituals were identified to help nurses provide health education.

- Family and community expressed a strong need to protect the newborn using traditional belief systems.


Background: Far too many newborns die or face serious morbidity in Zambia, as in many other sub-Saharan African countries. New knowledge is needed to enhance our understanding of newborn care and the cultural factors influencing the ways mothers seek newborn care. This study adds to the literature about rural Zambians’ cultural beliefs and practices related to newborn care and health-seeking practices that influence maternal-newborn health.

Objective: The goal of this study was to describe the factors associated with newborn care in rural Zambia.

Design: Sixty focus groups were conducted. Each group contained a minimum of 8 and maximum of 12 participants. Recruitment was conducted orally by word of mouth through the nurse in charge at the health facilities and village chiefs.

Setting: Data were collected between June and August 2016 in 20 communities located in Zambia's rural Lundazi (Eastern province), Mansa, and Chembe (Luapula province) Districts.

Participants: The study included community members (n = 208), health workers (n = 225), and mothers with infants younger than 1-year-old (n = 213).

Findings: The following themes emerged. From mothers with infants, the dominant theme concerned traditional and protective newborn rituals. From community members, the dominant theme was a strong sense of family and community to protect the newborn, and from health workers, the major theme was an avoidance of shame. A fourth theme, essential newborn care, was common among all groups.

Key conclusions: Together the themes pointed toward a maternal dualism for mothers in rural Zambia. Mothers with infants in rural Zambia likely experience a dualistic sense of responsibility to satisfy both cultural and health system expectations when caring for their newborns. Mothers are pulled to engage in traditional protective newborn care rituals while at the same time being pushed to attend ANC and deliver at the health facility. These findings can be used to understand how mothers care for their newborns to develop interventions aimed at improving maternal-child health outcomes.

Implications for practice: There were findings about the culture-specific prevention of cough, care of the umbilical cord, and early introduction of traditional porridge that carry implications for nursing practice. There is an obvious need to reinforce the importance of partner testing for STIs during routine ANC even though there is a desire to preserve dignity.


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Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: