Maternity Care at the Intersections of Language, Ethnicity, and Immigration Status: A Qualitative Study

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Women's health issues : official publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health




INTRODUCTION: Women of color and immigrant women are more likely to report mistreatment and poor quality of care during their reproductive health care. Surprisingly few data exist on how language access may impact immigrant women's experiences of maternity care, particularly by race and ethnicity. METHODS: We conducted qualitative in-depth, one-on-one semi-structured interviews from August 2018 to August 2019 with 10 Mexican and eight Chinese/Taiwanese women (n = 18) living in Los Angeles or Orange County who gave birth within the past 2 years. Interviews were transcribed and translated, and data were initially coded based on the interview guide questions. We identified patterns and themes using thematic analysis methods. RESULTS: Participants described how a lack of translators and language- and cultural-concordant health care providers and staff impeded their access to maternity care services; in particular, they described barriers to communication with receptionists, providers, and ultrasound technicians. Despite Mexican immigrants' ability to access Spanish-language health care, both Mexican and Chinese immigrant women described how lack of understanding medical concepts and terminology resulted in poor quality of care, lack of informed consent for reproductive procedures, and subsequent psychological and emotional distress. Undocumented women were less likely to use strategies that leveraged social resources to improve language access and quality care. CONCLUSIONS: Reproductive autonomy cannot be achieved without access to culturally and linguistically appropriate health care. Health care systems should ensure that comprehensive information is given to women, in a language and manner they can understand, with particular attention toward providing in-language services across multiple ethnicities. Multilingual staff and health care providers are critical in providing care that is responsive to immigrant women.


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