Maternity Care and Safe Delivery
Fact Sheet on Youth Reproductive Health Policy
Wide disparities in access to maternity care mean that women in many countries still face intolerable risks throughout pregnancy and during and immediately after childbirth. Over 500,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes.
Its Importance as a Youth Reproductive Health Issue
Key Areas for Policy Action
- About 11% of all births in developing countries are to young women between ages 15 and 19. Many of these 13 million young women are giving birth before their bodies have fully matured.
- Young mothers are at increased risk of complications such as vaginal tears, obstructed labor, fistulae, excessive bleeding, and infection during and after childbirth. Young mothers are also at higher risk of preterm birth and of having low birth weight babies.
- For both physiological and social reasons, women between ages 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their twenties. Girls under age 15 are five times as likely to die as those in their twenties are.
- Infants born to young mothers are more likely to die and suffer from disease than those born to older women.
General policies applicable to mothers of all ages should aim to improve access to basic maternity care, including safe delivery and pre- and post-natal care. Policies specific to young people should:
The State of Policy Making
- Recognize the age-specific medical problems affecting young women. Policy should acknowledge that the treatment and management of adolescent mothers differ in important ways from that of adult women.
- Promote laws and policies that reduce pregnancy-related death and illness. These include laws that promote young women's access to reproductive health care and information and that protect young women's health such as prohibition against early marriage.
- Acknowledge the need for youth-focused educational and informational campaigns. Educational campaigns should provide appropriate, comprehensive, and accurate information on sexuality, reproduction, danger and consequences of early pregnancy, contraception, decision-making skills, gender relations, and the positive aspects of delayed marriage/sexual activity, education, and economic empowerment.
- Address the underlying causes of pregnancy-related health problems in youth, for example by promoting family planning services to prevent early pregnancy, emphasizing expanded educational opportunities for girls, addressing problems of poverty and malnutrition, and promoting community education to encourage families and individuals to delay marriage and first births.
- Address education policies and other policies that prevent expulsion of pregnant girls from school.
While many countries have general policies promoting that promote safe motherhood, few such policies include specific attention to the needs of young women. Because young mothers have special maternity-related needs, the failure to acknowledge and address their needs is a key gap that policymakers should fill.
To search for policies related to maternity care in the policy database, click here.
Research Finding to Support Policy Development
Adolescent Pregnancy (631kb) (WHO, 2004). Part of the series of WHO Discussion Papers on Adolescence.
What Works: A Policy and Program Guide to the Evidence on Family Planning, Safe Motherhood, and STI/HIV/AIDS Interventions: Module 1: Safe Motherhood (POLICY Project, 2003). This guides includes discussion of youth-focused maternity care interventions.
Related Links and Resources
Children Having Children (Save the Children, 2004). The 2004 edition of the State of the World's Mothers focuses on teenage mothers.
Maternal Health Care among Adolescents (152kb) (YouthNet, 2004). An overview from the YouthNet YouthLens series.
Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health. This international group works to reduce the burden of maternal death and ill-health in developing countries.
Pregnant Adolescents: Delivering on Global Promises of Hope (WHO and UNFPA, 2006). Useful for advocacy with policymakers and program managers.
Safe Motherhood: Policy and Management Assessment (WHO, 2002). A web-based guide for safe motherhood needs assessment.
Q. What international policies address maternal care for adolescents?
In 2002, the United Nations Special Session on Children declared that reducing maternal and newborn illness and death among adolescent expectant mothers is a high priority. In August 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development held an international working group meeting with about 40 international experts to achieve consensus on key issues, best practices, research gaps, and recommendations for actions to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal death and illness among adolescents. The recommended priority actions from the meeting were to:
- Make existing safe motherhood activities more responsive and accessible to pregnant adolescents, including services for pregnancy prevention, pregnancy, emergency obstetric care, newborns, and abortion (where not against the law)
- Provide information about rights and choices for adolescents, including sexuality education
- Provide social support for pregnant adolescents, especially the very young adolescents
- Advocate for and, if possible, ensure the enactment of policies and actions for:
- universal education, including retaining/returning to school by pregnant adolescents
- sexuality education to help prevent unintended pregnancy
- access to information and services for adolescents consistent with the evolving capacity of the adolescent
- subsidy for care for pregnant adolescents, especially the very young
(adapted from YouthLens #11, 2004, Maternal Health Care among Adolescents) (152kb)