Qualitative examination of the role and influence of mothers-in-law on young married couples' family planning in rural Maharashtra, India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Unmet need for family planning (FP) continues to be high in India, especially among young and newly married women. Mothers-in-law (MILs) often exert pressure on couples for fertility and control decision making and behaviors around fertility and FP, yet there is a paucity of literature to understand their perspectives. Ten focus group discussions (FGDs) were carried out with MILs of young married women (aged 18–29 years) participating in a couple-focused FP intervention as a part of a cluster-randomized intervention evaluation trial (the CHARM2 study) in rural Maharashtra, India. FGDs included questions on their roles, attitudes, and decision making around fertility and FP. Audio-recorded data were translated/transcribed into English and analyzed for key themes using a deductive coding method. MILs reported having social norms of early fertility and son preference. They understood that family size norms are lower among daughters-in-law and that spacing can be beneficial but were not supportive of short-term contraceptives, especially before the first child. They preferred female sterilization, opposed abortion, had apprehensions around side effects from contraceptive use, and had misconceptions about the intrauterine device, with particular concerns around its coercive insertion. MILs mostly believed that decision making should be done jointly by a husband and wife, but that as elders, they should be consulted and involved in the decision-making process. These findings highlight the need for engagement of MILs for FP promotion in rural India and the potential utility of social norms interventions.