Warming the postpartum body as a form of postnatal care: An ethnographic study of medical injections and traditional health practices in Cambodia

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Postpartum care is a critical element for ensuring survival and health of mothers and newborns but is often inadequate in low- and middle-income countries due to barriers to access and resource constraints. Newly delivered mothers and their families often rely on traditional forms of postnatal care rooted in social and cultural customs or may blend modern and traditional forms of care.

This ethnographic study sought to explore use of biomedical and traditional forms of postnatal care. Data were collected through unstructured observation and in-depth interviews with 15 mothers. Participants reported embracing traditional understandings of health and illness in the post-partum period centered on heating the body through diet, steaming, and other applications of heat, yet also seeking injections from private health care providers.

Thematic analysis explored concepts related to transitioning forms of postnatal care, valuing of care through different lenses, and diverse sources of advice on postnatal care. Mothers also described concurrent use of both traditional medicine and biomedical postnatal care, and the importance of adhering to cultural traditions of postnatal care for future health.

Maternal and newborn health are closely associated with postnatal care, so ensuring culturally appropriate and high-quality care must be an important priority for stakeholders including understand health practices that are evolving to include injections.

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