The organization Save The Children has come out with their Annual State of the World’s Mothers Report. The rankings compare 165 countries — 122 in the developing world —looking at the quality of maternal health, education and economic status as well as the nutrition and well-bring of children. According to the report, the top ten best places to be a mother include Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Belgium, Ireland the UK and The Netherlands. Norway is ranked the highest. Niger is ranked the lowest, replacing Afghanistan which has shown some small improvement from last year when it came last on this list.
The US comes in at #25, between Belarus and the Czech Republic. Though we’ve moved up a few spots from last year, we’re still ranked last when it comes to infant mortality in the developed world. And, according to the report, “in the industrialized world, the United States has the least favorable environment for mothers who want to breastfeed.”
According to the report, America’s poor showing is the result of several contributing factors:
- In the U.S. women have a 1 in 2,100 risk of pregnancy-related death— the worst of any industrialized nation.
- The U.S. ranks 41st in child mortality.
- Women in the U.S. have relatively low political status.
- Children in the U.S. aren’t enrolled in preschool as often as in other developed countries.
- We are one of the few developed nations in the world who do no guarantee working mothers paid leave.
This years’ report makes many recommendations; one of which is to increase breastfeeding around the world. “Breastfeeding is the single most effective nutrition intervention for saving lives. If practiced optimally, it could prevent 1 million child deaths each year.”
According to the report, obstacles to breastfeeding include:
- “Cultural beliefs, lack of knowledge and misinformation.”
- “Aggressive marketing of infant formula often gives the impression that human milk is less modern and thus less healthy for infants than commercial formula.”
- Problems encountered early on, such as a poor latch or breast pain, are not adequately addressed, get worse and women give up.
- Women have to stop to go back to work very soon after giving birth and they are not supported with the space or time to express milk or nurse within the workday.
- “Also many countries need better laws and enforcement to protect women from persecution or harassment for breastfeeding in public.”
Mothers in America are strongly encouraged to breastfeed–the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends six months exclusive breastfeeding and one year in total–but this report shows that there’s serious dissonance between that message and the reality for mothers:
“The United States ranks last on the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard. It is the only economically advanced country and one of just a handful of countries worldwide where employers are not required to provide any paid maternity leave after a woman gives birth. There is also no paid parental leave required by U.S. law. Mothers may take breaks from work to nurse, but employers are not required to pay them for this time. Only 2 percent of hospitals in the United States have been certified as ‘baby-friendly’ and none of the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes has been enacted into law. While 75 percent of American babies are initially breastfed, only 35 percent are being breastfed exclusively at 3 months.”
It’s devastating to read about what a woman in Niger can expect when she’s pregnant. And what’s most infuriating is that most of the deaths of mothers and babies in counties like Niger ARE PREVENTABLE. The report highlights ways to help and goals to be presented to the leaders of the G8 countries at Camp David later this year.
It’s also worth noting that in counties topping this list, women are supported throughout pregnancy with excellent healthcare (via socialized medicine), there’s paid maternity and paternity leave, excellent daycare and early education and support for moms to go back to work. It’s interesting to look at Scandinavian countries because they are simultaneously family-friendly AND most women work.
From the conclusion of the report:
“The contrast between the top-ranked country, Norway, and the lowest- ranked country, Niger, is striking. Skilled health personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only 1 in 3 births are attended in Niger. In Norway, nearly 40 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women; in Niger only 13 percent are. A typical Norwegian girl can expect to receive 18 years of formal education and will live to be over 83 years old. Eighty-two percent of women are using some modern method of contraception, and only 1 mother in 175 is likely to lose a child before his or her fifth birthday. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Niger, a typical girl receives only 4 years of education and lives to only 56. Only 5 percent of women are using modern contraception, and 1 child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday. This means that every mother in Niger is likely to suffer the loss of a child.”
You can read the entire report here.