Labour ward woes: Nurses told me to act with the calmness I had when making the baby

Saida Ali from Mombasa County at her home in Mshomoroni. She is a victim of mistreatment in labour.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • Mistreatment at health facilities have pushed many women in Kilifi to opt for home delivery.
  • The youngest and least-educated women are most at risk
  • Some health employees work for long hours, but still have to grapple with delayed pay, hence frustrated.

Ms Biasha Menza, a 20-year-old woman from Kilifi County, had her first child at a government hospital six months ago.

She has lived to regret her decision to visit the facility after she was mistreated by health workers.

Narrating her ordeal, the first-time mother says she suffered physical and emotional abuse while delivering.

"I was slapped and scolded during childbirth for being unable to push my baby out. Being a first-time mother, I was not aware that to push the baby out one needs to close their mouth; I kept on screaming, my mouth wide open," she tells

She adds that health workers mocked her for not being able to record her details correctly, but she blames it on language barrier.

"My parents died while I was still a little girl. I had no one to take me to school, so it was a challenge for me when I was asked to record my details," she says.

Widespread complaints

Ms Menza is one among many women who have suffered at the hands of health staff. Women across the country have complained about mistreatment during childbirth in government facilities.

Tales of physical and verbal abuse, stigmatisation and discrimination, abandonment, or neglect and negligence by healthcare workers reverberate across Kenya. Some women are scolded, slapped, discriminated against, mocked, and at times neglected.

Some of the worst cases ever reported include surgical items being left in the womb after Caesarean section; babies getting switched or sold; and women being forced to undergo procedures without their consent.

A 2019 research by the World Health Organisation (WHO), says more than a third of women experienced mistreatment during childbirth in health facilities.

The study, carried out in four African countries, showed that women were at the highest risk of physical and verbal abuse between 30 minutes before birth and 15 minutes after.

The youngest and least-educated women were most at risk. Addressing these inequalities and promoting respectful maternal care is critical to improving health equity and quality.

Mariam Kasuki (in brown), a victim of labour mistreatment, during the interview at her home in Kwale.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

Mistreatment amounts to violation of human rights, particularly women’s rights to dignified and respectful maternal care.

Afia Swaleh, a Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri) field coordinator officer based in Kilifi County, says most victims  get no justice because they do not report.

“Some women and healthcare providers justify slapping a woman while she is in labour, saying it is done to encourage them to push. Mistreatment at health facilities have pushed many women in Kilifi to opt for home delivery, which is among the causes of maternal mortality rates in Kenya," she said, adding that some women choose to go to hospital at the last minute to avoid humiliation and abuse.

"Going late can be fatal for both the mother and the baby. The government should introduce measures to safeguard women during childbirth," says Ms Swaleh, adding that everybody has a right to proper healthcare.

She calls on the government to introduce refresher courses for health workers so that they are trained on how to handle patients well. She also says they need a platform to air the challenges they face at work.

A midwife who speaks on condition of anonymity urges the government to address the challenge of under-staffing and salaries. She says some health employees work for long hours, but still have to grapple with delayed pay.

"At times we get overwhelmed; you find a single health worker attending to many patients, so the tiredness makes some nurses harsh, especially when attending to people who do not want to follow processes," she says, citing language barrier as another challenge for some of them.

Afye Swaleh, Muslim for Human rights (Muhuri) field officer at her office in Kilifi. She says some women and healthcare providers justify slapping a woman while she is in labour, saying it is done to encourage them to push.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

Saida Ali, a 34-year-old mother of three from Mombasa, says she delivered her third child at a government hospital but was disappointed by health workers’ rudeness towards her. Recalling the nightmare, she says no one came to her rescue even after she called for help.

“The nurses mockingly told me to act with the same calmness that I had when making the baby; another one told me to stop acting like a first-timer,” she says.

Selina Munyoka says her relative was once left with a piece of cotton inside her womb after Caesarean section.

“My sister gave birth through Caesarean section and was discharged after four days; however, she developed complications and we had to take her back for examination, only to find out that the doctors left some cotton wool,” she says.

Another victim,  Miriam Kasuki from Kwale, says while delivering her first child, she did not get any assistance from health workers, despite calling for help.

"I had gone to hospital in Kinango Sub-county. I could feel my baby was coming out but when I called for help, nobody came; a nurse just told me to be patient as I was not the only one in the hospital," she says.

Najma Khalifa, a midwife based in Kilifi, however says it is important for women to get proper care during delivery as failure might lead to postpartum depression.

She says women need a good support system throughout their pregnancy and during and after delivery, to prevent them from falling into depression.

“Some women tend to get overwhelmed by the whole process of labour. The depression can be mild or severe in some cases. We just prescribe, to some, psychiatric medicine, and in some, the patient has to be taken to psychiatric hospitals,” she says.


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