Nepal has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the South Asia region, partly due to the underutilization of maternal health services and the high number of adolescent pregnancies. This study explores married Nepali adolescent girls' healthcare-seeking behaviour throughout their pregnancies, during their delivery and postpartum.
We conducted a prospective qualitative study in Banke district, Nepal. In-depth interviews were conducted with 27 married adolescent girls before and after delivery. In addition, a focus group discussion was conducted with community health works and key-informant interviews were conducted with family members of adolescent girls, representatives from the government and health care providers. We applied the Social-Ecological Model (SEM) as a framework to guide thematic content analysis and presentation of our qualitative data.
Several factors in the SEM influenced maternal health care-seeking behaviour of adolescents. At the individual level, girls' perceptions, their lack of knowledge about maternal and reproductive health, certain traditional practices, their sole dependency on their husbands and mothers-in-laws and their low decision-making autonomy towards their own health care negatively influenced their utilization of skilled maternal health services. Mothers-in-law and other family members played a critical role in either encouraging or discouraging the use of skilled maternal health services. At the health systems level, lack of adolescent-friendly maternal health services, difficulties in accessing quality maternal health services, and the fixed operating hours of public health facilities restricted their ability to obtain services. The existence of the Safe Motherhood Programme, knowledge sharing platforms such as "women's groups" and the active role of Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) positively influenced utilization of skilled maternal health services among these girls.
Influences on married adolescent girls' use of skilled maternal health services in Banke District, Nepal were multi-factoral. Ensuring easy access and availability of adolescent-friendly maternal health services are important to encourage adolescent girls to use skilled maternal health services. Moreover, interventions are needed to improve adolescent girls' knowledge of maternal health, keep them in school, involve family members (mainly mothers-in-law) in health interventions, as well as overcome negative traditional beliefs within the community that discourage care-seeking for skilled maternal health services.