Niger is the worst place to be a mother in the world, replacing Afghanistan for the first time in two years, while Norway comes in at first place, according to the Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report.
“Malnutrition is the underlying cause of at least a fifth of maternal mortality and more than a third of child deaths,” says the just released report.
The Best and Worst Places to Be a Mom ranking, which compares 165 countries around the globe, looks at factors such as a mother’s health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition.
This year, ahead of a crucial G8 meeting where President Barack Obama is expected to discuss food and agriculture, the State of the World’s Mothers report focuses on nutrition as one of the key factors in determining mothers’ and their children’s well-being.
The Vicious Cycle
Of the ten countries at the bottom of Save the Children‘s annual index, seven are in the midst of a food crisis.
‘Niger, in bottom place, is currently in the grip of a worsening hunger situation, threatening the lives of a million children.”
Four of the bottom ten countries have seen an increase in stunting over the past two decades — where children’s mental and physical growth is permanently blighted by malnutrition.
The report details a vicious cycle of young mothers, who may themselves have been stunted in childhood, going on to give birth to underweight babies who have not been adequately nourished in the womb.
“If a mother is impoverished, overworked, poorly educated and in poor health, she may not be able to feed the baby adequately, with largely irreversible effects.”
One in Three South Asian Women, “Excessively Thin”
Save the Children notes that in sub-Saharan Africa, up to 20% of women are classified as excessively thin, while that figure rises to up to 35 percent in South Asia.
The report highlights that the best method for breaking this cycle and protecting the pregnant mother and her baby from malnutrition is to focus on the first 1000 days starting from pregnancy.
Save the Children called for more global action to tackle the cycle of maternal and child malnutrition when G8 leaders gather in Camp David in two weeks’ time.
“The 2012 State of the World’s Mothers report shows clearly that this crisis of chronic malnutrition has devastating effects on both mothers and their children,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children.
“We urgently need global leadership on the malnutrition issue, so that policies and programs are put in place to ensure the health and survival of mothers and their babies.”
In new research for the report, Save the Children found that the simple measure of supporting mothers to breastfeed could save one million children’s lives a year.
The Full Benefits of Exclusive Breastfeeding
Yet the report also shows that less than 40% of all infants in developing countries receive the full benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.
This is due, in part, to countries lacking strong commitment and complimentary programs that enable mothers to breastfeed. When the two do combine, the report shows that it can have success even in low-income countries, as it has done in Malawi and Madagascar.
“Our research shows that a mother’s breast milk — one single nutrition intervention — can save a million children’s lives each year,” said Miles.
“All mothers should have the support they need to choose to breastfeed if they want to. Breastfeeding is good for babies no matter where they live, but in developing countries, especially those without access to clean water, breastfeeding can be a matter of life or death.”
Read full report.