OBJECTIVE: Continuum of care (CoC) in maternal health is built on evidence suggesting that the integration of effective interventions across pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period leads to better perinatal health outcomes. We explored gaps along the CoC in maternal health in Benin.
METHODS: A mixed-methods study triangulating results from a qualitative study in southern Benin with a quantitative analysis of Benin Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) data on the use of services along the CoC was conducted.
RESULTS: Benin Demographic and Health Survey analysis showed that although 89% of women reported at least one antenatal care (ANC) visit, only half initiated ANC in the first trimester and completed 4 or more visits. 85% reported facility-based childbirth and 69% a postnatal check within 48 h after childbirth. Our qualitative study confirms early initiation of ANC and the transition from facility-based childbirth to postnatal care are important gaps along the CoC and reveals late arrival at health facility for childbirth as an additional gap. These gaps interact with spiritual and alternative care practices that aim to safeguard pregnancy and prevent complications. Structural factors related to poverty and disrespectful care in health facilities compounded to limit the utilisation of formal healthcare.
CONCLUSIONS: The combined use of BDHS and qualitative data contributed to highlighting critical gaps along the maternal CoC. A lack of integration of spiritual or alternative aspects of care into biomedical services, as well as structural factors, impeded access to healthcare in Benin.