Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 8: Healthy Pregnancies and Safe Births
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Welcoming a new child into the world is cause for celebration. Pregnancy and childbirth can be happy and uplifting times for parents, families, and entire communities. When families and communities make the health of girls and women a priority, there is even more cause to celebrate because mothers and newborns will be healthier. To ensure that women experience healthy pregnancies and safe births — what we call "safe motherhood" — communities need to address many aspects of women’s health. Women need to have fair and equitable access to quality health care, enough food, safe jobs, and education. In addition, of course, women need good care during pregnancy and while giving birth, and they should have access to emergency care if needed.
Having a skilled midwife provide prenatal care and attend a birth can make a big difference in the mother’s and the baby’s health. But many things can threaten safe motherhood, such as whether the mother has been exposed to toxic chemicals at work, has an STI, or has suffered domestic violence or a lifetime of poor nutrition. This chapter focuses mostly on what women need during pregnancy and childbirth, but safe motherhood starts in childhood and is influenced by many things.
When girls eat enough healthy food they grow the strong bones, muscles and blood they will need to have healthier pregnancies later on.
When girls live free of violence, sexual assault or harassment, and harmful traditions like genital cutting they grow up to be women with fewer health problems.
When girls get an education they lead healthier lives. Women who have more schooling are more likely to wait until they are fully grown to have a child and to space pregnancies more than 2 years apart, so their bodies are healthier.
When girls learn about their bodies they can take better care of their health their whole life. Girls need this information before they start monthly bleeding and before they start having sex, so they can know how pregnancy happens, how to use birth control methods to prevent pregnancy, and how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections.
When and if a woman decides she is ready to become a mother, she is more likely to experience a healthy pregnancy and birth if she has access to:
- family planning that enables her to decide when and how many children to have. This can help ensure that all pregnancies are wanted. Using family planning so there is enough time between pregnancies will give a woman’s body time to grow stronger again, and lead to safer pregnancies, healthier mothers and children.
- work that is not harmful to women’s bodies and to the developing babies. Safe working conditions enable women to take care of their health during pregnancy and avoid problems during childbirth. Sitting or standing for long hours, lifting and carrying heavy loads, exposure to toxic chemicals, and other harmful working conditions will affect a woman’s health before and during pregnancy.
- sexually transmitted infection prevention and treatment. STIs can cause problems with pregnancy and birth for the mother and for the baby.
- good health care before, during, and after pregnancy and birth. A woman needs to be healthy before becoming pregnant. She also needs care and support during pregnancy and a skilled caregiver at the birth to help keep her and the baby safe. As her body is recovering from giving birth, she also needs good care and support.
- access to emergency care when needed. Although most births happen without needing medicines or complicated medical equipment, women need to have good emergency care close by, in case something goes wrong.