Better Birth Outcomes—How Can We Get There?

As a mother of twins who were born prematurely back in 2008, I definitely have a soft spot for any initiative dedicated to promoting healthier neonates. My boys came to me through a highly medicalized birth, and spent nearly a month in the NICU hooked up to some very fancy machines and consuming some very expensive medicines to catch up with their full-term peers. I know without a doubt that my kiddos (who are now almost 5-year-olds) would not have survived if it weren’t for the full range of medical technology available to us here in the States. I feel grateful every day, but positive outcomes for preemies and sick newborns is almost something taken for granted around these parts.

baby and mom

There are places in the world where babies’ survival is not such a sure bet. The Pediatrics medical journal recently reported on the prevalence of birth asphyxia in developing nations. Birth asphyxia refers to babies who are born not breathing, and it is a leading cause of neonatal death in countries “with limited resources.” Stillbirths and newborn deaths due to birth asphyxia are, sadly, preventable in many cases—the problem is that midwives and birth attendants in some developing areas simply don’t have the tools or know-how to help out. Although reducing infant mortality in the developing world is one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, making strides in this area has been a slow process.

One initiative taking aim at newborn breathing problems has been launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics in Tanzania, where twenty-six babies will die out of every thousand live births. Most deliveries in rural Tanzania, where access to medical services is often severely limited, are attended by midwives—but midwife training mainly focuses on the well-being of the mother, not the newborn. The AAP’s program uses a core tenet of long-term developing: training. The program provides training to birth attendants as to warming and drying babies immediately after birth, as well as in resuscitating non-breathing babies with a bag and mask. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s been estimated that this training could increase the amount of living babies tenfold.

The challenges of life in the developing world really do start at birth. It’s awful to think of newborns dying of causes that would be mostly preventable with a bit of training and some very low-tech medical equipment. I know I said it already, but it’s easy to take for granted things as basic as the fact that, when we give birth to our children here in the States, we have access to life-saving technology and can be reassured that our babies are in the hands of people trained to take the best-possible care of them. With more training, hopefully neonates the world over will have the privilege of similar safety.