Mom's Health Is the Key to Family Health

Mom's health is key to the health of her whole family. (Image credit: Getty Images)

By Dr. Meera Dalal

Pregnancy is beautiful. Or it is? The reality is that for many women around the world, and even here in the United States, pregnancy can be a death sentence.

About 800 women worldwide die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. About 99 percent of the deaths occur in the developing world. A woman's lifetime risk of dying during or after pregnancy is 1 in 3,800 in the United States, but 1 in 39 in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With Mother's Day around the corner, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, hosted a Tweet Chat this week on maternal health. His goal was to shed light on this important global issue, and to honor the invaluable role that women play in communities around the world.

Participants included Mayo Clinic experts and passionate mom advocacy groups like Every Mom Counts and Save the Children.

You can catch a full transcript of the chat here. Read on for the highlights.

Why does maternal health matter?

Childbirth is the leading cause of death for young women in many countries. A mother's medical status affects the whole family and, in turn, the community. Women play a central role in society; they raise future leaders and earners and are themselves a powerful force for health promotion, education and employment. Emphasizing women's health has a ripple effect: Children stay in school longer, overall disease and death rates decrease and communities become stronger.

- White RibbonAlliance (@WRAglobal) May 7, 2013

What are the leading health issues faced by women?

Globally, 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths result from bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion and hypertension. Women in the United States are not immune from these preventable complications. Two women die in this country every day from pregnancy-related causes. Maternal mortality is highest for adolescent girls younger than 15.

The recently released Save the Children's 14th annual State of the World's Mothers report ranks the United States in 30th place for maternal health. The five indicators they found most affecting women were education, income, women's political representation and the chances a mother and her baby will survive.

What are the key steps to promoting maternal health?

Most maternal health-related deaths are avoidable, as methods to prevent or manage complications are well-established. The key is improving access to care in pregnancy, having skilled health professionals during childbirth to provide the crucial minute-to-minute care necessary, and support in the weeks after childbirth. Simple solutions like hygiene education can also have a major impact.

What are biggest gaps globally in maternal health?

In the United States, postpartum depression affects many new mothers, while infection and severe bleeding are the main concerns in Asia. It is necessary to understand the unique conditions prevalent in each country in order to invest properly and effectively.

How can I help?

Maternal health-related deaths decreased 47 percent worldwide between 1990 and 2005. But one of the World Health Organization's development goals is to reduce the number of maternal deaths by the year 2015.

Some simple solutions included managing maternal anemia with iron, prenatal vitamins, preventing and managing postpartum hemorrhage and access to family planning to prevent repeat pregnancy in young children and adolescents.

Happy Mother's Day from ABC News.