In many poor countries, only 54 per cent of births take place in clinics or hospitals. And in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – the regions that suffers from the most maternal and neonatal mortality – more than 60 per cent of women give birth at home.
Why is this the case? Health care costs, travel and accommodation costs and other costs such as the income lost by family members who accompany the expecting mothers may hinder many women and families from seeking medical care in facilities.
Better health can begin at home. The nutrition and hygiene practices in the household have a tremendous effect on the health risks faced by mothers and newborns. Poor nutrition, lack of basic hygiene practices (like washing one’s hands with soap or ashes after using the toilet before preparing and eating meals) and indoor air pollution can spread infections and diarrhoeal diseases.
For good nutrition, the exclusive breastfeeding of infants up to six months has enormous potential to improve child health and wellbeing. Improving household knowledge of basic health, nutrition and environmental health interventions, along with increased empowerment of women to make decisions about their own health and the health of their children, could have a strong positive impact on health for both newborns and mothers.