Earlier this week (and in commemoration of Mother's Day this Sunday), our colleagues at Save the Children issued a report about the state of the world's babies through the lens of the very critical first day of a child's birth.
The report, Surviving the First Day: State of the World's Mothers 2013, contains some somber reading:
- Every year nearly 3 million babies die during the first month after birth, and more than a third die on the day they are born. As a result, that day is "the riskiest day for newborns and mothers almost everywhere," the report said.
- These deaths are largely preventable. The report notes that the first day is a moment "of unequaled opportunity to save lives and set the stage for a healthy future," with low-cost interventions that are possible through "improved and expanded health care systems." Another key? Improved maternal nutrition.
- The United States does not fare particularly well -- it ranks 30th out of 176 countries, ahead of Japan and South Korea but below all of Western Europe, Australia, Canada and others. "Approximately 11,300 U.S. babies died on the first day of life in 2011," the report said. "Some U.S. counties have first-day death rates common in the developing world, where 98 percent of all first-day deaths occur."
- If you're a mother, the best place to be is Finland, the index says. The toughest place to be a mom is the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"It's hard to imagine the depth of one mother's pain in losing her baby the very day she gives birth, let alone a million times over," said Carolyn Miles, Save the Children's president and CEO. "Yet, this report is full of hope. It shows there is a growing movement to save newborn lives and growing evidence that we can do it—saving up to 75 percent of them with no intensive care whatsoever."
At a launch of the report Tuesday (May 7) at the United Nations here in New York, Dr. Kim Eva Dickson, a senior advisor for maternal and newborn health for UNICEF, said among the poorest women of Africa, it is common not to name children until a week into their lives – there is so much uncertainty whether the babies will even survive.
"That first day of life is critical," she said. "We need to give all babies their name on that first day."
It was good to see the report mentioned the importance of nutrition in all of this – a fact stressed by CWS and others involved in anti-hunger efforts and work to guarantee proper nutrition during pregnancy and a child's first year.
As the report notes: "The importance of good nutrition in improving survival rates for mothers and newborns extends beyond the time that a woman is pregnant, gives birth, and attends to her baby’s needs. Undernourished girls grow up to become small women. Underweight mothers tend to have undernourished babies.
"Promoting adequate nutrition and counseling women to gain enough weight during pregnancy are important. But equally important is promoting a healthy and varied diet through an adequate supply of food that improves the nutrition of girls and women throughout life."
Chris Herlinger is a writer with CWS.