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Barrier-Free Communication in Maternity Care of Allophone Migrants

At a glance


Pregnant migrant women and their families might be affected by a double stressor compared to non-migrant women, stemming from the maternal adjustment process but also from coping with living in a foreign country, limited communication or the uncertainty of their residence status. An increased maternal and child health morbidity and mortality is well documented in this population and seems to be correlated with limited access to maternity care and information.

Official figures state that nearly 10% of foreigners living in Switzerland are allophone, meaning that they do not (fluently) speak any of the official languages. In women native of non-EU27 and -EFTA countries and asylum seekers, the rate is considerably higher.

This study aims to analyze the access and communication barriers of allophone women with different migration backgrounds in maternity care services, from the perspective of users, health care professionals and interpreters.

In Switzerland it is currently unclear how successfully midwives and other health care professionals communicate with allophone migrants and whether or not they use any of the currently available support measures (e.g. training in transcultural skills, written multilingual health information or interpreter services).

The interviews with the participants in this study showed that language barriers often lead to limited knowledge of the services available to pregnant women in Switzerland. A further finding was that difficult verbal communication between patients and health professionals is indeed is a significant barrier for the provision of good medical care and counselling during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Thirdly, we found that the language barriers often restrict the degree to which the migrant patients can actively participate in their own care and counseling. Thus, according to our findings, it is often times impossible for allophone migrant women to ask questions and express insecurities, as well as to understand the explanations around different medical procedures and decisions given by the health professionals, without the help of interpreters. This limits their capacity for active participation in their own care and the possiblity of independent and informed decision-making.