Having babies – it’s what we were biologically put on this earth to do. Propagation of the species, alongside survival, is the most natural instinct that we have. But it has also historically been one of the most dangerous.
Two hundred years ago, child mortality rates were high – in the UK as many as one in every three children did not make their fifth birthday, and many barely made it past their first year. Today, that rate has dropped down from 329 to just four deaths in 1000.
Although the rates declined steadily from 1800, the biggest rate of decrease occurred after 1950. Improvements in living conditions, gradual improvements to child social care, better hygiene practices, improved medical care and better nutrition will have played their part leading up to the 1950s, but after this time there were some specific factors that have contributed to not only better chances of survival post birth, but also the introduction of prenatal care and knowledge.
Pre-natal Knowledge and Care
Historically, pregnant women were shrouded in mystery. Cultural traditions played a major part in their ‘care’, and pregnancy and birth were the secretive remit of doctors and midwives who took on the practical aspects of helping the baby make its way into the world.
Probably the Biggest Advance in Prenatal Care
As knowledge of the mechanics of pregnancy and birth have increased, so have the processes and systems that support them during gestation. Ultrasound was probably one of the most revolutionary technological inventions to have a radical effect on obstetrics. The very first ultrasound scan during pregnancy was carried out in Glasgow in 1956, using a machine that was originally designed to detect industrial flaws in ships.
Over the ensuing years the technology was improved and refined until it became more widely used in hospitals across the country, and indeed globally, in the 1970s.
Today, regular scans are a standard part of the care for all pregnant women. As well as the usual two dimensional scans that we are all familiar with, there now exists the technology to carry out 3D and even 4D scans in clinics from Essex to Edinburgh, from Glasgow to Gloucester. These scans not only monitor the growth rates and health of the developing foetus, but can also give the parents a unique insight into what their new baby is going to look like.
Between seventy and eighty per cent of childhood deaths occur during the first year of life. Some of the reasons for this are attributed to perinatal causes, congenital malformations and unexplained sudden death syndrome.
Maternal health also plays a significant role. Over the years as social circumstances have improved, and social care has become the responsibility of the state, with improved midwifery services, rates of neonatal deaths have dropped considerably. However, there are still many countries still mired in poverty and deprivation where poor maternal care has contributed to the reduction in viability of the unborn baby.
Education of the mother also plays its role. Self-care during pregnancy, knowledge of breastfeeding and safe infant sleeping positions, good access to vaccination programmes, adequate nutrition – these are all aspects of obstetric care that are provided as standard by the health systems of richer, developed nations, but are often scarce in poorer nations.
The result is an inequality in the provision of care, and a subsequent increase in the comparative rates of neo natal deaths. There is no reason why these rates should be so inequal, and action must be taken by global aid agencies to continue to improve maternity care for those living in the poorest of territories.