Motherhood should be a joyful and positive experience, but for many women across the world, pregnancy and childbirth are a dangerous and frightening time in their lives.

Illness, injury or even the death of mothers as the result of complications in pregnancy, childbirth or soon afterwards are all too common – disproportionately so in poor communities. This is devastating both for the women themselves and for their families.

Most of these injuries and deaths are preventable if women have access to information, quality health care and family and community support.

Sustainable Development Goal 3 sets a target of reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. So far, progress in developing countries in reducing maternal mortality and providing family planning services has been too slow achieve this.

Women and Children First with our partners, are working to reduce the number of maternal deaths and to improve maternal health in some of the world’s poorest communities, by strengthening health systems and empowering women to recognise and act on the danger signs.

Defining the terms

The term maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the period immediately following the birth. Finding ways to improve the health and nutrition of mothers-to-be and ensuring that they have access to quality reproductive and family planning services, are the key to addressing many other problems, including the underlying causes of child mortality.

Maternal death is defined as the death of a woman while she is pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, regardless of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.

So not all deaths which occur during or soon after pregnancy are categorised as ‘maternal deaths’. This term refers only to those which result either directly from pregnancy, labour or the six weeks following childbirth, or indirectly, from a disease that developed before or during pregnancy and was aggravated by the pregnancy. Deaths from other causes during this period, such as accidents, are not referred to as ‘maternal deaths’ but as ‘deaths occurring in pregnancy, childbirth or the puerperium (6 weeks after childbirth)’.

Maternal mortality is measured using the maternal mortality ratio (MMR). This is the ratio of the number of maternal deaths during a given time period per 100,000 live births during the same time-period. This is different from the maternal mortality rate, which is the number of maternal deaths in a population divided by the number of women of reproductive age – a figure which indicates the likelihood of both becoming pregnant and dying during pregnancy or the six weeks following delivery.

In Depth

Maternal Health & Maternal Mortality - An Overview
Maternal Mortality - The Statistics
Causes of Maternal Deaths
Higher Risks in Developing Countries
Improving Maternal Health
Preventing Maternal Mortality