Reducing Maternal Deaths in Nigeria: How Men Can Play a Critical Role During Pregnancy

By: Nnamdi Eseme, Women Deliver Young Leader

In Nigeria, women have always been forced to go through the stressful journey of pregnancy all alone, with little or no support from their husbands. This makes them susceptible to psychological stress, anxiety, fear, and complications during pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth constitute the second leading causes of death among women of reproductive age, after HIV/AIDS. Every year, there are 303,000 maternal deaths worldwide.

The list of morbidities in pregnancy is long and diverse, and includes fever, anemia, fistula, incontinence, infertility, and depression. In Nigeria, women who suffer from fistula are often stigmatized and ostracized by their husbands, families, and communities, even though it is through no fault of their own. These women are abandoned and left to suffer, living in unhealthy environments, and ravished by poverty, as they are unable to find employment.

It is therefore necessary to educate men on the need to play an active and supportive role during their wives’ pregnancies to reduce the huge burden that women carry single-handedly.

Cultural misconceptions

In Nigeria, the predominant cultural belief is that pregnancy is solely the woman’s domain and that the man's job is to get the woman pregnant, after which he takes a break from participating, only to return when she delivers. As such, it is rare to see men accompany their wives to the clinic for regular postnatal care; it is almost a taboo. This prevents men from showing supportive care to their wives during pregnancy, as they don't want to be seen as effeminate.  

"My fingers and palms are swelling, my entire body is swelling. I also have this tingly sensation. My entire body aches,” says Blessing Timidi, a young woman from Bayelsa, Nigeria. At 28 years of age, this is her third pregnancy and she is experiencing some minor complications and discomfort.

“After my delivery, I will surely do a long-term family planning because I can't go through all this pain again. My husband comes to check on me regularly but he has to go to work. I wish he could stay with me all day. This pregnancy is affecting my career as I have suspended all work activities for now. The doctor says I have pre-eclampsia and I am worried; what can I do? I get scared whenever I go for checks because I have heard of several women who died during pregnancy due to pre-eclampsia. I need my husband.”

Timidi’s powerful story highlights the need for spousal participation during pregnancy, as it can provide necessary psychological comfort.

Resultant risks and suffering

Women die in pregnancy and childbirth for five main reasons: hemorrhage, infection, high blood pressure, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labor. With several states in the Northeast region of Nigeria currently facing insurgency, women face some of the highest risks because health systems are broken and overcrowded, and they lack adequately skilled staff to handle deliveries. Some women have even been forced to give birth while fleeing from terrorists. This puts these women at risk and exposes the most vulnerable to several complications during pregnancy, like improper handling of the birth, bleeding, infection, fistula, and even death.

Achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs)

Sociocultural practices in Nigeria also promote patriarchy and isolate women during pregnancy. In September, world leaders adopted a new set of global sustainable development goals. Goal three is to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for everyone at all ages. This means that governments are now committed to ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services for all people by 2030, regardless of gender.

It remains to be seen how Nigeria will truly embrace the new goals and encourage men to play more supportive roles for pregnant women.

Nnamdi Eseme is a Women Deliver Young Leader and key correspondent for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance from Nigeria, working to improve the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women in his community by reporting stories that matter to them. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physiology from the University of Uyo, Nigeria and has published several articles about girls and women's health, HIV, and education.

Entry Comments

    • Dec 09
    • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Very powerful story smile

    Indeed women need all the support they can get during pregnancy.

Speak Up!
  Remember me next time.
Notify me of follow-up comments.