Maternal and newborn health

Newborns and mothers are still dying in appalling numbers – mostly from preventable causes.

A mother lies next to her one-day-old baby, covered in blankets.
UNICEF/UN076835/Sharma

In recent decades, the world has made significant progress reducing newborn and maternal deaths. Between 1990 and 2017, the newborn mortality rate was almost halved – from 37 to 18 deaths per 1,000 live births. From 1990 to 2015, the global maternal mortality rate fell by nearly 44 per cent.  

But newborns and mothers – including adolescent mothers – are still dying in unacceptably large numbers – mostly from preventable or treatable causes, such as infectious diseases and complications during pregnancy or childbirth. 

Uneven access to affordable, high-quality health care and services impedes many countries from improving maternal and newborn survival and reducing stillbirths. A significant proportion of maternal and newborn deaths occurs in settings of conflict or displacement.

Newborn and maternal mortality snapshot

  • Every day, some 7,000 babies die in the first month of life. In 2017, an estimated 2.5 million newborns died worldwide, and around 2.6 million babies were stillborn.
  • Globally, about 810 women die each day from preventable complications related to pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Every 15 minutes, a newborn perishes of neonatal tetanus. In 2017, neonatal tetanus killed nearly 31,000 newborns.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa records the world’s highest rates of newborn and maternal mortality.
  • If current trends continue, 56 million children under the age of 5 are projected to die between 2018 and 2030, half of them newborns.
A mother carrying her young child on her back smiles as she approaches a mobile health clinic in Nigeria.
UNICEF/UN0270170/Knowles-Coursin
A young mother brings her child to a UNICEF-supported mobile health clinic in Kawa Musawa, Zamfara State, Nigeria.

UNICEF's response

All babies and mothers are entitled to affordable, high-quality health care before, during and after pregnancy. To make services accessible to all, UNICEF and partners adopted the Every Newborn Action Plan, a global road map to reduce newborn mortality. 

As part of this commitment, UNICEF supports countries to provide essential packages of high-quality maternal and newborn services, such as home visits and kangaroo care that uses skin-to-skin contact between parents and babies to increase their chances of survival. 

We also work with partners to eliminate maternal and newborn tetanus, collect information on adolescent pregnancies, and train health-care workers to address the specific needs of adolescent mothers.

Results for newborns and mothers

  • As of 2018, 45 out of 59 countries identified as high-risk for maternal and newborn tetanus had fully eliminated the disease. 
  • Over 153 million women were immunized against tetanus between 1999 and March 2019. 
  • 52 countries with high neonatal and maternal mortality recorded 84 million live births in UNICEF-supported health facilities between 2016 and 2018. 

Resources

Every Child Alive: The Urgent Need to End Newborn Deaths

Read more about what needs to be done to accelerate global efforts to end preventable newborn deaths.


Newborn Health in Humanitarian Settings Field Guide

This field guide provides information related to newborn care during the first 28 days of life in humanitarian settings. 


Survive and Thrive: Transforming Care for Every Small and Sick Newborn

This technical report on small and sick newborns, developed by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, outlines what can be done to transform inpatient care for small and sick newborns.


Every Newborn Progress Report, 2019

This report provides an in-depth look at progress related to newborn health in 90 countries and territories that use the Every Newborn Tracking Tool.