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Facts for Life

Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health

Why it is important to share and act on this information


Every pregnant woman hopes for a healthy baby and an uncomplicated pregnancy. However, every day, about 1,500 women and adolescent girls die from problems related to pregnancy and childbirth. Every year, some 10 million women and adolescent girls experience complications during pregnancy, many of which leave them and/or their children with infections and severe disabilities.

Each year, about 3 million babies are stillborn, and 3.7 million babies (latest data available, 2004) die very soon after birth or within the first month. The poor health of the mother, including diseases that were not adequately treated before or during pregnancy, is often a factor contributing to newborn deaths or to babies born too early and/or with low birth weight, which can cause future complications.

The risks of childbearing for the mother and her baby can be greatly reduced if: 1) a woman is healthy and well nourished before becoming pregnant; 2) she has regular maternity care by a trained health worker at least four times during every pregnancy; 3) the birth is assisted by a skilled birth attendant, such as a doctor, nurse or midwife; 4) she and her baby have access to specialized care if there are complications; and 5) she and her baby are checked regularly during the 24 hours after childbirth, in the first week, and again six weeks after giving birth.

Pregnant women and their partners who are HIV-positive or think they may be infected should consult a trained health worker for counselling on reducing the risk of infecting the baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, and caring for themselves and their baby.

Governments have a responsibility to ensure that every woman has access to quality maternity care, including prenatal and post-natal services; a skilled birth attendant to assist at childbirth; special care and referral services in the event serious problems arise; and maternity protection in the workplace.

Most governments have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Some countries have ratified the international agreements on maternity protection, and most have enacted legislation on maternity protection. These international agreements in defence of women's rights include a legally binding commitment to provide pregnant women and mothers with health services and protection in the workplace.

Many women, including adolescents, have difficulty accessing quality health care due to poverty, distance, lack of information, inadequate services or cultural practices. Governments and local authorities, with support from non-governmental and community-based organizations, have a responsibility to address these issues to ensure that women receive the quality health care they need and that they and their newborns have a right to receive.