Why is it important to be aware of cultural influences regarding pregnancy and prenatal care?



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Why is it important to be aware of cultural influences regarding pregnancy and prenatal care?

  It has been noted that racial diversity plays a very important part in incidence of birth defects. According to the California Department of Public Health, Hispanic infants were born with Down syndrome at higher rates than other infants. Furthermore, Asians have been shown to be at higher risk for oral-facial clefts, followed by Whites and African Americans. 

    The importance of ethnicity in the prevalence of these defects, possible theories have been put forward asserting the correlation with poverty, racism, environmental exposures, diet, inequalities in access to healthcare and unequal treatment in the health care system.

    Prenatal care in the United States is regarded as an essential part of the pregnancy process. Women who understand the importance of early treatment to ensure adequate fetal development take initiative to monitor their health as well as the fetus.However, prenatal care varies within cultures and ethnicities ( Gabrysch et al. 2009).  The importance of prenatal care has many variations depending on culture and ethnicity. However, depending on the culture pregnancy can be regarded as a normal condition and in the case of some Hispanic or Asian cultures,many women do not believe in early intervention and do not seek until much later in the pregnancy. Additionally in some Asian cultures, they even avoid prenatal vitamins as they are considered too harsh for the fetus based on their philosophy of yin/yang. Although customs and values should be respected; traditional beliefs can stand in the way of early detection and pose potential health risks to both mother and baby.  Understanding cultural differences is the key to explaining the importance of prenatal care.   

    There may be differences between the culture of maternity care services and the cultural practices and preferences of women and communities, in regards to childbirth settings, practices, attitudes towards illness and health, materials and/or language, for example. Perceived cultural insensitivity or poor intercultural competencies of professionals can also lead to discrimination of certain users by providers, resulting in a lack of trust in services and service providers (Gabrysch et al. 2009 ). Cultural beliefs and practices are often framed as a ‘barrier’ to the uptake of maternity care services, rather than a population characteristic which health systems need to consider in order to be responsive to community needs. Providing care that takes people’s cultural preferences into account is an important component of quality of care. The need for ‘culturally appropriate’ maternity care services is core to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) strategy for improving maternal and newborn health (WHO 2003).


Gabrysch S Lema C Bedrinana E et al.  . 2009 . Cultural adaptation of birthing services in rural Ayacucho, Peru . Bulletin of the World Health Organization  87 : 724 – 9 

WHO . 2003 . Working with Individuals, Families and Communities to Improve MNH  . Windau-Melmer : Washington, D.C., World Health Organization.

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