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BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2016 Aug 8;16(1):211. doi: 10.1186/s12884-016-1014-9.

Excessive bleeding is a normal cleansing process: a qualitative study of postpartum haemorrhage among rural Uganda women.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Psychiatry, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.



Postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) remains the leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide. The main strategy for preventing PPH is the use of uterotonic drugs given prophylactically by skilled health workers. However, in settings where many women still deliver at home without skilled attendants, uterotonics are often inaccessible. In such cases, women and their caregivers need to recognize PPH promptly so, as to seek expert care. For this reason, it is important to understand how women and their caregivers recognize PPH, as well as the actions they undertake to prevent and treat PPH in home births. Such knowledge can also inform programs aiming to make uterotonics accessible at the community level.


Between April and June 2012, a phenomenological study was carried out in a rural Ugandan district involving 15 in-depth interviews. Respondents were purposively sampled and included six women who had delivered at home in the past year and nine traditional birth attendants (TBAs). The interviews explored how PPH was recognized, its perceived causes, and the practices that respondents used in order to prevent or treat it. Phenomenological descriptive methodology was used to analyse the data.


Bleeding after childbirth was considered to be a normal cleansing process, which if stopped or inhibited would lead to negative health consequences to the mother. Respondents used a range of criteria to recognize PPH: rate of blood flow, amount of blood (equivalent to two clenched fists), fainting, feeling thirsty, collapsing or losing consciousness immediately after birth. As a group, respondents seemed to correctly identify women at risk of PPH (those with twin pregnancies, high parity or prolonged labour), but many individuals did not know all the reasons. Respondents used cold drink, uterine massage and traditional medicine to treat PPH.


The community viewed bleeding after childbirth as a normal process and their methods of determining excessive bleeding are imprecise and varied. This opens the door for intervention for reducing delays in the home diagnosis of PPH. This includes increasing awareness among TBAs, women and their families about the risk of death due to excessive bleeding in the immediate postpartum period.


Delay seeking care; Home births; Intra-partum practices; Postpartum haemorrhage

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