Lack of access and stigma are isolating Kenyan mothers

Kenyan mother Winfred was supported by Team Mum

One in 26 babies in Kenya die before their first birthday. Proximity to clinics and unreliable support systems are only worsening the problem. This means that mothers are often left without the tools they need to support their babies before and after birth.

Social status, cultural taboos and stigma, and location can make pregnancy an extremely isolating experience for many Kenyan women, whether married or single.

Studies have indicated that dependency on male figures is a significant enabling factor in accessing maternity care. In spite of this, unplanned pregnancies and lack of access to care is often seen as the woman’s fault.1

Gender roles and relationship status have also been found to negatively impact access to maternity care. A study on maternal health in Kenya found that mothers who were single, widowed, or were one of two or more wives were at a significant disadvantage when it came to seeking pre and postnatal care.2

One mother interviewed for the study delivered her first three children in hospital. Once her husband married for a second time, he refused to cover her medical costs and she had to deliver a further three babies at home.3

Kenyan mother with baby Kenyan mother Winfred felt isolated during her pregnancy

For Winfred, lack of status in her own community meant that decisions about her and her baby’s health were often out of her hands. She fell pregnant while she was still in school and negative attitudes towards unmarried, young mothers in her local community put a strain on her family ties.

Determined to carve out a life for herself, she now lives with her grandmother and is training to be a hairdresser, yet the stigma of being a young mother still affects her.

Studies have found that loneliness and lack of emotional support has a significant impact on a new mothers’ mental health, particularly young mothers

This deep feeling of isolation and lack of resources such as a stable family unit, the financial means to cover healthcare costs, and support in physically travelling to and from clinics leaves young mothers like Winfred unable to access the care they need. The emotional burden of feeling unsupported as you prepare for a baby can also be overwhelming.

Child.org’s Team Mum appeal works to remove these barriers that hinder expectant mothers in rural Kenya from accessing essential care. Their starter packs provide mums with the fundamentals they need to make sure their baby is healthy, including a weighing bag that allows them to monitor the health of their newborn.

The appeal’s support groups welcome mothers-to-be into a community that genuinely wants to help: working with them to create birthing plans and familiarising them with their local health centres.

Kenyan mother WinfredWinfred was welcomed by a community of mothers with similar experiences

Studies have found that loneliness and lack of emotional support have a significant impact on a new mother’s mental health, particularly young mothers.4 The training of community and healthcare workers often doesn’t extended to mental health, limiting their ability to help.5

Team Mum’s support groups are purpose-built to support mothers in situations like Winfred’s — they are safe, emotionally and physically supportive spaces, bringing together mothers with similar experiences. Winfred says that learning and socialising with other young mums has made her feel “free”, as if she’s her “own person again”:

“I am happy. I feel like I’m going somewhere with my life, I feel like I can be something in life.”

The Team Mum appeal is helping single Kenyan mothers to overcome judgment and isolation by strengthening their community networks, and educating and empowering them to take control of their maternity wellbeing independently.

A study into the mental health needs of pregnant teenagers in Kenya published found that out of 176 participants, 16 per cent were severely depressed.67 Lack of healthcare and basic needs, restricted opportunities for livelihood, personal development, and education were all cited as contributing factors to the depression, anxiety and stress faced by many of the young mothers.8

The Femedic is proud to be a charity partner for Team Mum.

The Team Mum appeal is funded by Child.org. To learn more or to donate, visit child.org.

Featured image is of Winfred. She is smiling and carrying a parcel covered in colourful cloth on her back, like a backpack

Page last updated April 2019

References

  1. Byford-Richardson, L., Walker, M., Muckle, W., Sprague, A., Fergus, S., Rennicks White, R., & Dick, B. (2013). Barriers to Access of Maternity Care in Kenya: A Social Perspective. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 35/2: 125-130.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Kumar, M., Huang, K., Othieno, C., Wamalwa, D., Madeghe, B., Osok, J., & Kahonge, S. et al. (2017). Adolescent Pregnancy and Challenges in Kenyan Context: Perspectives from Multiple Community Stakeholders. Global Social Welfare, 5/1: 11-27.
  5. ibid
  6. Osok, J., Kigamwa, P., Huang, K., Grote, N., & Kumar, M. (2018). Adversities and mental health needs of pregnant adolescents in Kenya: identifying interpersonal, practical, and cultural barriers to care. BMC Women’s Health, 18/1.
  7. Osok, J., Kigamwa, P., Stoep, A., Huang, K., & Kumar, M. (2018). Depression and its psychosocial risk factors in pregnant Kenyan adolescents: a cross-sectional study in a community health Centre of Nairobi. BMC Psychiatry, 18/1.
  8. Kumar, M., Huang, K., Othieno, C., Wamalwa, D., Madeghe, B., Osok, J., & Kahonge, S. et al. (2017). Adolescent Pregnancy and Challenges in Kenyan Context: Perspectives from Multiple Community Stakeholders. Global Social Welfare, 5/1: 11-27.

Rachel Mantock

Deputy Editor, The Femedic

A feature writer who started out in lifestyle and wellness, Rachel joined The Femedic after becoming frustrated with the way women’s bodies and intimate health were being reported on. She wanted to talk about the good, the bad, the ‘ugly’ and the ‘really ugly’, with no topic too taboo to investigate. From conversations with the women she meets everyday to speaking with doctors, she’s constantly surprised by the amount of misinformation and lack of research around women’s health issues. She’s determined to raise awareness of the female health issues that are prominent in minority groups and to get more women talking shamelessly about their bodies and experiences.

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