This paper uses data collected using in-depth, semi-structured interviews to examine utilization of maternal health care services among two rural and urban populations of Pune and Mumbai in Maharashtra, India. The study aims to identify key social, economic and cultural factors influencing women’s decisions to use maternal health care and the places used for child delivery, whilst considering the accessibility of facilities available in the local area. Socioeconomic status was not found to be a barrier to service use when women perceived the benefits of the service to outweigh the cost, and when the service was within reasonable distance of the respondent’s place of residence. A large number of women perceived private services to be superior to those provided by the government, although cost often meant they were unable to use them. The provision of services did not ensure that women used them; they had to first perceive them to be beneficial to their health and that of their unborn child. Respondents identified the poor quality of services offered at government institutions to be a motivating factor for delivering at home. Thus further investigation is needed into the quality of services provided by government facilities in the area. A number of respondents who had received antenatal care went on to deliver in the home environment without a trained birth attendant. Further research is needed to establish the types of care provided during an antenatal consultation to establish the feasibility of using these visits to encourage women, particularly those with high-risk pregnancies, to be linked to a trained attendant for delivery.
Journal of Biosocial Science (2001) 33 339-359