Maternal Health Education must be Prioritized Globally

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black and white sonogram of a fetus inside the womb of a pregnant woman

What is Maternal Health Education?

The WHO states “Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period.” Each stage should be a positive experience, ensuring women and their babies reach their full potential for health and well-being.”

Although important progress has been made in the last two decades, in 2020, the global maternal mortality ratio was 152 deaths per 100,000 live births; this number is unacceptably high. Every pregnancy and birth is unique.

Addressing inequalities that affect health outcomes, especially sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender, is fundamental to ensuring all women have access to respectful and high-quality maternity care. Maternal mortality is defined by the World Health Organization as the death of a woman from pregnancy-related causes during pregnancy or within 42 days of pregnancy.

The most common direct causes of maternal injury and death are excessive blood loss, infection, high blood pressure, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labor, as well as indirect causes such as anemia, malaria, and heart disease. Most maternal deaths are preventable with timely management by a skilled health professional working in a supportive environment.

Ending preventable maternal death must remain at the top of the global agenda. At the same time, simply surviving pregnancy and childbirth can never be the marker of successful maternal health care. It is critical to expand efforts reducing maternal injury and disability to promote mental health and physical well-being.

What About Prenatal and Pre-Pregnancy Health Education?

Prenatal care involves education on appropriate health behaviors during pregnancy and how to provide the best environment for their baby to grow. These visits provide an opportunity to monitor the health of the baby and the mother to improve birth outcomes.

Pre-Pregnancy and prenatal care can help prevent complications and inform women about important steps they can take to protect their infant and ensure a healthy pregnancy. With regular prenatal care women can: Reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, saving lives.

If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, visit a doctor for pre-pregnancy care and education.

If you’re a young woman that has just or is thinking of becoming sexually active, please visit a doctor if possible or seek out help and education about contraception methods and options to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

How Does Women’s Maternal Education Affect Overall Health?

The studies link education with reduced child and maternal deaths, improved child health, and lower fertility.

Women with at least some formal education are more likely than uneducated women to use contraception, marry later, have fewer children, and be better informed on the nutritional and other needs of children.

Underlying these effects, increasing women’s education is found to decrease the probability of short birth intervals and unwanted pregnancies (which may result in unsafe abortions) and to increase antenatal healthcare use, potentially owing to changes in women’s cognitive skills, economic resources, and autonomy.

How Maternal Education Can Better an Economy?

In developed countries, smaller family sizes enable couples to save a higher percentage of their income and invest some of it in education and infrastructure, leading to increased productivity of the economy, greater employment, and higher incomes.

“The power of girls’ education on national economic growth is undeniable: a one percentage point increase in female education raises the average gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points.” stated the Global Partnership Education Organization.

Impoverished teen girls and women are less able to choose when and how many children they have due to the lack of contraception options and definitely due to a lack of education. Oftentimes, children born to these challenging conditions are raised in poverty, and will grow to experience similar disparities. It becomes a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

“When birth control and education are unavailable, poverty becomes cyclical.”

Contraceptives and family planning helped boost college completion rates, labor force participation, wages, and family income for the children of parents who had access. One action that should be taken by all governments would be to offer free birth control options to all young women ie. school aged girls and young women.

Here’s a map of the countries where the pill is fully subsidized (it includes Iran). Global Subsidized Contraception Map

How Pre-Pregnancy Maternal Education Helps Break the Cycle?

Sex education is key to avoiding unnecessary unwanted teenaged pregnancies that can lead to unsafe abortions, unwanted births, under provided childcare.

With our planet now stating a serious level of over population, there is no sense in not providing birth control options free of charge and proper education required for our young women; both in developed and underdeveloped countries.

Unplanned pregnancy can disrupt young people’s education and career goals, limit earning potential, affect their children’s mental health and educational outcomes. In USA, for example, nearly one in 10 female community college students drop out because of unplanned motherhood. This not only affects the life of the future baby; it ends many opportunities for growth in the mother’s life; and this can lead to depression and other mental health issues.

“In a recent Guttmacher Institute study, a majority of women stated that birth control enables them to support themselves financially (56%), complete their education (51%), take better care of themselves and their families (63 percent), and get or keep a job (50%).” wrote Miriam Kelberg of The Wilson Quarterly.

Parents are traditionally on the periphery of all education systems; at best, we lean on them to help on the margins. At worst, we see them as barriers, particularly in the case of girls’ education; but COVID-19 school closures thrust parents into a central role of substitute teachers. This also enlightened parents more into their children’s daily routines, fears, state of minds, etc. through sheer day to day contact.

Lockdowns have removed the option for ‘out of sight – out of mind’ thinking and offered a renewal for parents to take a hands on role in the daily lives of their children, especially pre-adult teenaged kids that are approaching or have landed into sexual activity and desires.

What have we learned through this experience?

Parents can be strong allies for girls’ education. In developed countries, parents have a multiple choice of educational tools to use, both online and offline with many options that are cost free. In developing countries, parents can reach out to many organizations that offer free education and birth control assistance. Take Action!

The fact is that investing in girls’ education delivers concrete, far-reaching economic and social benefits for all.

The good news today is that parental support for school-based sex education is overwhelmingly positive. Over the past 20 years, in survey after survey, local, state or international, 80 to 85 percent of parents indicate they want their children to receive comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education.

The United Nations Population Fund states: “Comprehensive sexuality education enables young people to protect and advocate for their health, well-being and dignity by providing them with a necessary toolkit of knowledge, attitudes and skills.

It is a precondition for exercising full bodily autonomy, which requires not only the right to make choices about one’s body but also the information to make these choices in a meaningful way. And because these programs are based on human rights principles, they advance gender equality and the rights and empowerment of young people.

Every young person will one day have life-changing decisions to make about their sexual and reproductive health. Yet research shows that the majority of adolescents lack the knowledge required to make those decisions responsibly, leaving them vulnerable to coercion, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.”

How Maternal Education Could Help Mental Health?

It has been found that higher levels of education have been associated with better mental health. The reasons touted are that educated people have a greater number of choices and thus have more control over their lives and better security. Meanwhile, low education has been linked to a lack of a sense of control and resilience.

Sexual activity during adolescence may represent a risk for young women’s quality of life as well as their health; and can result in early pregnancy, abortion, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The need for sexual education in order to identify and prevent the risk factors of an unwanted pregnancy during adolescence becomes increasingly clear.

Empowering young women with the knowledge of how to preserve and/or protect themselves also offers them a sense of dignity, empowerment and self worth. Education all leads to good mental health, enabling our youth to grow into their adult years maintaining their options as future adults; as well as, allowing them to enjoy their years of youth, uninterrupted by disease or pregnancy and the difficult consequences of either of those conditions.

We all must Take Action and contribute to the health and well-being of our young women, globally. Take Action!

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