State of the World's Children


2013: Children with Disabilities

2012 : Children in an urban world

2011: Adolescence

Special: Child rights

2009: Maternal + newborn health

2008: Child survival

2007: Gender equality


Mortality causes

Four-fifths of maternal deaths are preventable if women have access to essential maternity and basic health-care services.

Maternal deaths mostly occur from the third trimester to the first week after birth (with the exception of deaths due to complications of abortion). Studies show that mortality risks for mothers are particularly elevated within the first two days after birth.

Direct causes
Most maternal deaths are related to obstetric complications and complications of abortion. Obstetric complications include:

§ post-partum haemorrhage

§ infections

§ eclampsia

§ prolonged or obstructed labour

Research has shown that approximately 80 per cent of these deaths could be averted if only women had access to essential maternity and basic health-care services.

As for neonatal deaths, three quarters take place in the first seven days, the early neonatal period; and most are preventable.  Some 86 per cent of newborn deaths globally are the direct result of three main causes:

§ severe infections, including sepsis/pneumonia, tetanus and diarrhoea

§ asphyxia (difficulty in breathing after birth)

§ preterm birth (delivery at less than 37 weeks of completed gestation).  Infants born prematurely find it more difficult than full-term babies to feed, maintain normal body temperature and withstand infection

Maternal and neonatal morbidity
For millions of women and newborns who do survive childbirth, they suffer from pregnancy related injuries, infections, diseases and disabilities, often with lifelong consequences.

Underlying causes
In addition to the direct causes of maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity, there are a number of underlying factors at the household, community and district levels that also serve to undermine the health and survival of mothers and newborns. These include:

§ lack of education and knowledge

§ inadequate maternal and newborn health practices and care seeking

§ insufficient access to nutritious food and essential micronutrients

§ poor environmental health facilities and inadequate basic health-care services including skilled health personnel and birth attendants

§ limited access to maternity services – including emergency obstetric and newborn care

Basic causes
There are also basic factors, such as poverty, social exclusion and gender discrimination that underpin both the direct and underlying causes of maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity.

Poverty undermines maternal and neonatal health in several ways. It can heighten the incidence of direct causes of mortality, such as maternal infections and under-nutrition, and discourage care seeking or reduce access to health-care services. It can also undermine the quality of the services provided even when they are available.

Early marriage and pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, sexual violence and other gender-related abuses also increase the risk that adolescent girls will drop out of school which entrenches the vicious cycle of gender discrimination, poverty and high rates of maternal and neonatal mortality.





SOWC 2009 Video: Human Rights

Human rights issues of maternal mortality
David Anthony
UNICEF Senior Editor


Maternal and Newborn Health

State of the World's Children's 2009


 Email this article

Donate Now

unite for children