Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Maternal and perinatal health

Pregnant women waiting in a health facility

About 287 000 women died in 2010 of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths can be avoided as the necessary medical interventions exist and are well known. The key obstacle is pregnant women's lack of access to quality skilled care before, during and after childbirth.

Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5), improve maternal health, set the targets of reducing maternal mortality by 75% and achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015. But, so far progress in reducing maternal mortality in developing countries and providing family planning services has been too slow to meet the targets.

Causes of maternal mortality

The major direct causes of maternal morbidity and mortality include haemorrhage, infection, high blood pressure, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labour. These complications may arise unexpectedly. Investing in health systems - especially in training midwives and in making emergency obstetric care available round-the-clock - is key to reducing maternal mortality.

Addressing the barriers to use of care and creating a environment within households and community that support women in seeking the needed care is also key.

The perinatal period

The perinatal period commences at 22 completed weeks (154 days) of gestation and ends seven completed days after birth. Perinatal and maternal health are closely linked.

Perinatal mortality refers to the number of stillbirths and deaths in the first week of life (early neonatal mortality).

In 2009 there were 2.6 million stillbirths globally with more than 8200 deaths a day. At least half of all stillbirths occurred in the intrapartum period. Among the 133 million babies born alive each year, 2.8 million die in the first week of life. The patterns of these deaths are similar to the patterns for maternal deaths; the majority occurring in developing countries. Quality skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth are key for the health of the baby and the mother.

WHO is supporting countries in delivering integrated, evidence-based and cost-effective care for mothers and babies that begins before conception and goes through pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.