PAHRUMP, Nevada — Maternal health and reducing childhood mortality are listed as two of the eight Millennium Development Goals. It is no wonder that those two initiatives are given one quarter of the MDGs’ focus because the two can be linked together and impact several other MDGs, including combating diseases, eradicating hunger and achieving universal primary education.
Maternal health is a determining factor in infant health, which in turn affects a family unit’s ability to thrive and seek education. When a mother has poor health or excessive stress due to living in poverty, her children suffer the same. Or worse, when a mother dies from pregnancy related complications, her children become orphans in a harsh environment. So when put in perspective, poverty reduction hinges quite a bit on maternal health.
When children are born to mothers that lack proper maternal care, both the mother and the children’s health are compromised. But when a mother has proper maternal care, she can have what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “safe motherhood [which]begins before conception with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.” Several things associated with maternal health and safe motherhood that also affect poverty are listed below.
1. Maternal death creates orphans — The World Health Organization reports that “about 289,000 women died in 2013 of complications during pregnancy or childbirth.” Almost all of those deaths occurred in developing countries. When a mother dies, she leaves her newborn child and any children that she may already have with an uncertain future. The orphans left behind have little chance of attending school, receiving proper health care and will be prone to remaining in poverty for the duration of their lives. When mothers live due to preventative health care, her children are given a chance to live fuller lives as well.
2. Maternal health impacts brain development in utero — Research has previously proven that a mother’s hormones and diet greatly affect her unborn child regardless of socioeconomic status. But what about mothers who live in poverty? New research has suggested that the stress caused specifically from a mother living in poverty reduces the size of a baby’s developing brain, specifically the hippocampus that stores one’s memories. This confirms that “poverty perpetuates poverty, generation after generation, by acting on the brain,” according to the New Yorker. When a mother is raised out of poverty and given maternal care, one helps to move the next generation out of poverty as well, therefore stopping the cycle.
3. Maternal health and pregnancy complications — Women in the poorest countries often only receive prenatal care once during their pregnancy instead of the recommended four visits. According to the WHO, the lack of care can result in missed opportunities “to detect problems and receive appropriate care and treatment” including “immunization and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.” This jeopardizes both the mother and the child as preventable pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia or anemia, or severe medical issues, such as the HIV/AIDS transmission that was highlighted, go unnoticed and untreated.
Maternal health creates a ripple effect that can be felt throughout several areas where poverty is concerned. When mothers are given a greater chance to live because of preventative care, their children and future generations are also given a chance to thrive. While maternal health has improved since the MDGs were implemented, “the maternal mortality ratio in developing regions is still 14 times higher than in the developed regions” the WHO explains. More work needs to be done to move families out of the poverty cycle.
– Megan Ivy