Low maternal health service utilisation amongst minority ethnic women in Vietnam is often attributed to 'traditional customs'. Drawing on secondary data and original, qualitative research amongst Hmong and Thai communities, this paper analyses minority behaviour related to childbirth. The informed selectivity in service attendance identified can be considered, in part, a rejection of current medicalised approaches at health facilities, where supine delivery is compulsory and family members are prohibited from attending women in labour. The paper reveals how conventional analyses of barriers to minority maternal health service utilisation inhibit scrutiny of the ways services fail to engage with or accommodate local preferences. Participatory identification of mutually acceptable delivery methods by maternal health staff and local women is recommended to enable the development of culturally inclusive services. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.