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Healthy Mother, Healthy Newborn

2012 April 5
by Shafia Rashid

There is ample evidence illustrating that the health of a woman and her newborn baby are intimately connected. We know that:

  • most maternal and newborn deaths are caused by the mother’s poor health before or during pregnancy or due to inadequate care in the critical hours, days, and weeks after birth
  • when a woman dies in childbirth, her newborn baby is less likely to survive

Recent research conducted by Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta and colleagues at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan confirms what we already know, and goes one step further: it identifies which maternal and newborn health interventions benefit both mother and newborn. These include:

  • Family planning/birth spacing: Family planning, including counseling on and provision of contraceptive methods, prevents unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion, and increases spacing between births. Adequate birth spacing (between 18-23 months) reduces the risk of maternal and newborn-related deaths.
  • High-quality antenatal care: Antenatal care provides a critical window to address a range of health care needs, such as treating HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and providing counseling and educational support. Well-designed, good quality ANC reduces the risk of preterm birth, perinatal mortality, and low-birth-weight infants
  • Detection and management of maternal diabetes: Treating maternal diabetes (through dietary advice, glucose monitoring, and insulin) reduces maternal and perinatal morbidity, specifically antenatal high blood pressure and neonatal convulsions.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life: The benefits of breastfeeding for the mother are both short- and long-term. In the short term, she is likely to recover more rapidly from the birthing process. It also has a significant impact on reducing the risk of breast cancer. For the newborn, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is recommended for optimal growth, development, and health.

This research is a critical step in better understanding just how deeply interconnected are the health of a woman and that of her newborn baby. It also underscores how vital it is to interconnect health care for women and their newborns — to promote greater efficiency, reduce costs, limit duplication of resources, and achieve greater impact.

As part of efforts to promote investment in and implementation of health interventions that can save the lives of both women and their newborn babies, FCI developed two publications summarizing the findings from this research and its impact on advocacy, policy, research, and programming:

  • A pocket card for non-technical audiences including policy makers, health officials, and civil society groups.
  • An Executive Summary for program managers and implementers working in low-resource settings.

With only three years remaining until the 2015 deadline for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this year will be a critical moment for efforts to improve global health. Because the health-related MDGs — and particularly MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality) and MDG 5 (Improve maternal health) — are furthest off-track, advocates, researchers, programmers, and policy makers must work together to develop, support, and implement effective, integrated policies and programs.

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