Maternal Care in Guatemala: Problematizing Discourses of Development, Transnational Advocacy, and Indigeneity

  • Briana NicholsEmail author
  • Lisette Farias
Part of the Global Maternal and Child Health book series (GMCH)


This chapter focuses on the impact of development discourses of biomedical care and transnational approaches to maternal pregnancy-related care among the indigenous Maya of Guatemala. Despite efforts by the Guatemalan government and collaboration with international advocates, indigenous Maya maternal mortality rates remain a significant concern. Approaches to reducing maternal mortality have been supported by both international and national initiatives focused on “safe motherhood,” and often involve a complex assemblage of caregivers who span both state run and nongovernmental organization (NGO)-based programming. The structures of care are incredibly complicated to navigate, often forcing women and their families to incur hidden costs associated with transportation, medication, and supplies. They serve to reproduce discourses that place indigenous practices in contrast with “modernity,” and ultimately neglect the critical social role of successful home birth for Mayan women. This chapter argues that discourses of development naturalizing childbirth in Western medical settings positions indigenous birthing practices as immoral and uninformed, and obscures the larger structural issues Mayan women and communities face. Constructing Mayan women as not only uniformed but also immoral does not serve the goal of reducing maternal mortality or morbidity.


Indigenous women Maternal health Poverty Home birth Guatemala Ladino Discrimination Indigenous pregnancy Maya Reproductive health Violence Maternal mortality Reproductive health Traditional midwife Comadrona Structural barrier Health services Education Training Birthing practice Infant morbidity Maternal morbidity 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Graduate Program of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesWestern UniversityLondonCanada

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