A 4-day-old newborn baby, who has been placed among empty baby beds Sean Gallup/Getty Images

How to Save Women and Newborns During Childbirth

Globally, more than 5.6 million women and newborns every year die during pregnancy, childbirth, or in the first month of life. Compounding the tragedy, 99% of the maternal deaths and 80% of the newborn deaths can be prevented with the right care.

BOSTON – Tennis star Serena Williams’ harrowing story of life-threatening complications after the birth of her daughter reminds us that childbirth is potentially deadly for any woman or newborn. Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in her lung. After advocating for herself, she received the lifesaving care she needed. Millions of women around the world do not.

Every year, more than 5.6 million women and newborns die during pregnancy, childbirth, or in the first month of life. Low-quality care during the 48 hours around childbirth, in particular, is one of the greatest contributors to birth-related suffering and death. These deaths shatter families and communities. And, compounding the tragedy, they are almost entirely avoidable. Ninety-nine percent of the maternal deaths and 80% of the newborn deaths can be prevented with the right care.

We know what kills women and newborns around the time of childbirth. The biggest killers of women are hemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labor, and eclampsia. For newborns, the main risks are asphyxia (difficulty breathing), prematurity, and infection. How to assess, treat, and prevent these causes of death has been known for decades. In many cases, simple steps like washing hands, warming the baby with skin-to-skin care, or treating high blood pressure would make all the difference.

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