Missing midwives on Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day approaches, our thoughts rightly turn to our own mums and how grateful we are for everything they do for us. For me, as I’ve gotten older its about the little things she does for me, like cutting articles out of the paper for me and making sure my favourite breakfast cereal is in the cupboard when I’m back at home for a visit. Just a couple of examples of a mother’s thoughtfulness and enduring support.

Very few of us will be thinking about the actual day that we were born and what our mums went through on that day in order to bring us into the world. I couldn’t tell you how long my mum was in labour for when she had me or who was in the room. I’ve not yet had children of my own and that’s perhaps why I’ve never thought to ask her what it was like. How did she feel when she went into the delivery room? Was she scared? Was she excited?

Thankfully, what I do know is that my mum would have been well looked after that day. She had a trained midwife, she was in a hospital and that hospital had the right drugs, equipment and staff on hand if there was an emergency.

I have just finished writing Missing Midwives, a Save the Children report for mother’s day that highlights the global shortage of midwives, and over the last few weeks I have realised just what a luxury that level of care during childbirth is.

During my research I found that every year around 48 million women give birth without anyone in the room who knows exactly what to do if something goes wrong. I was shocked to learn that more than 2 million women deliver their babies completely alone, without even a friend or relative present. I had to triple check the figures as I found it inconceivable that in some countries, like Nigeria, one in five women gives birth on her own.

1.3 million lives could be saved every year

Around the world, hundreds of thousands of mothers and babies are dying every year from causes that carry a minimal risk in the UK because they can be managed by a midwife. Every year more than 800,000 babies die from asphyxia — being deprived of oxygen during birth — many of them because there isn’t a midwife there who knows to rub their back or their feet to stimulate them to cry or who can rescusitate them if they need help to breathe. New analysis that was done for the report shows that 1.3 million lives could be saved by midwives who were properly trained, equipped and supported.

To save the lives of these babies, world leaders in both rich and poor countries need to invest in recruiting, training, supporting and paying more midwives and making sure they are deployed where they are most needed. Filling the global shortage of midwives and other healthworkers is an urgent priority.

So this mother’s day, as well as remembering the card, the flowers and the words of thanks for your own mum, spare a thought for the 130,000 women every day who go through childbirth without a midwife and just what they have gone through to become a mum.

Pledge your support with other mothers today.

Call on the UK government to train more nurses, doctors and midwives in poor countries.

Read our Missing Midwives report.

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  • In Uganda we have a gap of 2000 Midwives due to government ban on recruitment, only 42% of women deliver with a skilled health personnel and 63% in rural areas deliver in their homes……….unacceptable statistics, we need to do more to save women and newborns.

  • Miriam

    I read this article and then your report and I think it’s very interesting! I’ve not been a mum yet but I’m an Italian student midwives so I know (a little bit) this matter! Unfortunately I witness to a paradox..because in Italy for example there are a lot of young and good midwives who would work but hospitals don’t employ to save money! Once graduate it’s very difficult to work as a midwives in hospital and usually humanitarian organizations want midwives with a minimum of five years work experience…Is not this a vicious circle?? So why not give a chance to young graduate midwives? and how to do this? I repeat to me

  • Miriam

    this answer often… because there are a lot of young people so enthusiastically to get involved by helping others!!! miriam

  • I am a woman aged 41 and have two children and have also experienced a stillbirth at full term. Since the age of 26 I have always dreamt of becoming a Midwife to give help and support to expectant mothers and new mothers.
    I am married and have a mortgage and I currently work as a Civil Servant.

    I have researched the possibility of going to University to do the 3 year course to become a Midwife but unfortunately I cannot afford to do this with a mortgage and bills to pay and children to feed.
    It is a real shame that when the Government publish figures that state that there is a shortage of Nurse’s and Midwives within the NHS, they do not take into consideration the mature students who have a lot to offer and a yearning to train and fill these spaces. If they were to offer financial support to these willing candidates then I am sure there would not be such a shortage in the UK and around the globe where help is needed also.

  • Kathryn Rawe

    Thanks for all your comments.

    Senfuka – you’re right the statistics in Uganda are pretty shocking. Around 12,000 babies die a year from asphyxia – being deprived of oxygen during birth – and almost 10,000 from neonatal sepsis – an infection of the blood (often picked up when the umibical cord is cut) in Uganda. Both of these things can be largely prevented by midwives.

    Save the Children is calling for world leaders to hold a meeting at the UN in September to pledge action on recruiting and training more health workers, lets hope Uganda is there and pledges to make a difference.

    Miriam – Its great that you are keen to volunteer your skills to work abroad. In the UK we have a government scheme to help people share their skills – perhaps there is something similar in Italy? http://www.nhsemployers.org/RecruitmentAndRetention/Pages/Health-Partnership-Scheme.aspx
    Although to be honest it isn’t a long-term answer to the health worker shortage as my colleague points out here:

    Claire – it is such a shame that your ambitions to be a midwife are being frustrated. Having met a few over the last few weeks and months in writing the report I found that they were a truly inspirational bunch. The Royal College of Midwives were a great support to us during the launch of this report and I’m sure they would have some useful advice for you.