Maternal health

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MDG 5 is focused on improving maternal health.

Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period.

Two girls with toyWhile motherhood is often a positive and fulfilling experience, for too many women it is associated with suffering, ill-health and even death.1

Improving maternal health can include ensuring women can access information and services that support them to take care of their physical and mental health and treatment of existing diseases and conditions. 

If a woman chooses to become a mother, the seeds of maternal health are sown long before she does so. Women are more likely to have a healthy pregnancy when they are in good physical and mental health, and when they are empowered with the confidence, self-esteem, knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices about relationships and parenthood.

Being as healthy as possible is important for all girls and women – regardless of whether they decide to become mothers in the future.

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Why is maternal health a problem everywhere?2,3

Many people would not think that maternal deaths are a problem in the developed world, but they can be.

Women and children play a crucial role in development. Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do – it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies

Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General

Women are more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes in some countries than others. Even in the same country, women who are poor or who face discrimination are more likely to die.

Most often, maternal deaths in the developed world are not caused by a lack of health services or health professionals. The problem is that many women in different parts of the world cannot get the health care they need to have a safe pregnancy and birth.

Two girls swimming

There are many different reasons for this.

In some countries, people must pay for their own healthcare or buy private health insurance. Not everyone can afford these costs, while other people may be denied insurance because of their health history.

Costs are not the only thing that makes it hard for women to get the healthcare they need. They may not speak the same language as the health workers or have difficulties getting time off work, finding care for other children, or travelling to healthcare providers.

This points to the fact that maternal health is about more than how wealthy a country is. It is profoundly affected by government policies and the fairness of our societies.

Relevant WAGGGS resources


  1. World Health Organisation, Health Topics, Maternal Health,
  2. Amnesty International USA (2010). Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Crisis in the USA.
  3. Amnesty International USA (2011). Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Crisis in the USA – One Year Update Spring 2011.

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