Maternal health: the importance of caring for mothers is a crucial factor in the health of children

by Otávio Clark | May 6, 2016

Co-authored by Valéria Clemente

As we approach Mother's Day, caring for the carers of children is an extremely important topic. Studies show that maternal health is essential to ensure the health of children - and, by extension, the whole family. Still, many mothers suffer from lack of access to health, poor conditions and poor quality of life – especially in developing countries.

A healthy child needs a healthy mother. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), at least 20% of the disease burden in children under 5 is related to problems in maternal health and malnutrition, as well as the quality of care at delivery and during the newborn period. Moreover, according to UNICEF, a baby whose mother dies during childbirth is less likely to survive, and children who lost their mothers are 10 times more likely to die within two years of the death of their mothers.

"No child can be happy with an unhappy or sick mother”, says pediatrician Valéria Clemente, project director and market access specialist, Evidências - Kantar Health. "The care of the mother has to be intensive, not only in prenatal care, but also postpartum. The mother needs to be well, both physically and mentally, to take good care of her child. "

Mothers are also fundamental to ensure the health and quality of life of children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mothers are the main providers of care such as nutrition, oral health and psychological health. The role of women in health is also important: data from a survey conducted by Kantar Health in 2015 show that most health decisions are made by women. According to the survey, 94% of women make decisions of their own healthcare and 59% make healthcare decisions for others. So ensuring the mother's health is a way to ensure the health and well-being of the entire family.

A good example is the case of mothers of children with microcephaly. “Several programs have been created to support these mothers, because they are responsible for the day-to-day  care of these children, which will demand a lot of attention and care”, Clemente says. “If the mother is not well, how will she ever take this child to the physiotherapist or the neurologist, or follow doctors’ recommendations?”

Maternal Mortality

Maternal mortality rates remain very high. According to UNICEF figures, a woman dies from complications during childbirth every minute – about 529,000 each year – the vast majority in developing countries. A woman’s risk in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause throughout life is about 36 times higher compared with a woman living in a developed country. World Bank data show that the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone is 1,360 per 100,000 births – a number that contrasts significantly with the rate of four deaths per 100,000 births registered in countries such as Sweden and Austria. The major causes of maternal death are infections, bleeding and hypertension during pregnancy or childbirth.

In Brazil, maternal mortality is 44 cases per 100,000 live births, according to the World Bank. Even though the rate is decreasing each year, the pace of decline is not enough for the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of the United Nations (UN), to 35 deaths per 100,000 births. The high rate of cesarean sections, the excess of unnecessary interventions, lack of training of specialized teams and the prohibition of abortion are some of the factors identified as barriers for decrease.

Even with these alarming numbers, most of these deaths – 90%, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) – can be avoided, especially in guidance and access to care of women not only during delivery and pregnancy, but throughout life. To achieve this goal, it is important that policy makers at international, national and regional levels, together with the communities and families, join forces to recognize and address the risks, seeking to ensure the health of mothers.

"We need to educate mothers on the importance of taking care of their own health,” Clemente says. “Usually the mother neglects her own health at the expense of the health of her children. Mothers need to understand that if they are healthy, they will be able to take better care of their families”.

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