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Maternal and Neonatal Health Technical Update No.3: The Role of Family Planning in Promoting Safe Motherhood
POLICY (June 2006)

 Full Document (English)    

In countries with high fertility rates and poor access to maternal healthcare services, each pregnancy can put a woman?s life at risk. Women in the developing world experience a 1 in 61 lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. This is compared to a 1 in 2,800 lifetime risk for their counterparts in developed countries. Lifetime risk of maternal death considers the ?probability of becoming pregnant and the probability of dying as a result of pregnancy cumulated across a woman?s reproductive years? (WHO, 2003, p. 1). Factors that increase the likelihood of complications during pregnancy and delivery include (1) too many pregnancies, (2) too short an interval between pregnancies, (3) having a pregnancy too early in life, or (4) having a pregnancy too late in life. These risk factors can negatively affect a woman?s long-term health by depleting her nutritional and overall health status? contributing to anemia, fatigue, increased blood pressure, and decreased immunity to diseases such as malaria and reproductive tract infections. These factors can also increase the risk of birth injury, miscarriage, or stillbirth. It stands to reason, then, that maternal and neonatal deaths can be prevented by (1) limiting the number of pregnancies each woman experiences during her lifetime and (2) improving access to reproductive and maternal healthcare?particularly antenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, emergency obstetric care, postpartum care, and postabortion care. Family planning allows for healthy spacing and timing of pregnancies and limits the number of unintended pregnancies, both of which are essential components of comprehensive safe motherhood strategies (see Figure 1). Through integration of family planning and safe motherhood programs, women can limit their overall fertility and reduce the number of times they are at risk for maternal death; space births, thereby allowing their bodies to recover from previous pregnancies; and time their pregnancies. Improving access to and integrating family planning and safe motherhood programs provides additional societal benefits, including: healthier women who are better able to contribute economically to their families and communities; a reduction in neonatal deaths, deaths among children under 5, and children orphaned by maternal mortality; a reduced burden on public health and social welfare systems; and a reduction in abortions.

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