Addressing cultural factors that affect uptake of skilled maternity care is recognized as an important step in improving maternal and newborn health. This article describes a systematic review to examine the evidence available on the effects of interventions to provide culturally appropriate maternity care on the use of skilled maternity care during pregnancy, for birth or in the postpartum period. Items published in English, French and/or Spanish between 1 January 1990 and 31 March 2014 were considered. Fifteen studies describing a range of interventions met the inclusion criteria. Data were extracted on population and intervention characteristics; study design; definitions and data for relevant outcomes; and the contexts and conditions in which interventions occurred. Because most of the included studies focus on antenatal care outcomes, evidence of impact is particularly limited for care seeking for birth and after birth. Evidence in this review is clustered within a small number of countries, and evidence from low- and middle-income countries is notably lacking. Interventions largely had positive effects on uptake of skilled maternity care. Cultural factors are often not the sole factor affecting populations’ use of maternity care services. Broader social, economic, geographical and political factors interacted with cultural factors to affect targeted populations’ access to services in included studies. Programmes and policies should seek to establish an enabling environment and support respectful dialogue with communities to improve use of skilled maternity care. Whilst issues of culture are being recognized by programmes and researchers as being important, interventions that explicitly incorporate issues of culture are rarely evaluated.
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