For a newborn baby, the first 24 hours after birth are perhaps the most important hours of their lifetime. Those hours are their welcome to the world, their introduction to life, their chance to take their first breath and open their eyes for the first time. For mothers, fathers, families and friends, the first 24 hours after birth should be an exciting and emotional whirlwind of new things to learn, medical checks to undergo and photographs to take.

In reality, for millions of women, babies and families the day of birth is instead the most dangerous and, in the worst of cases, the most tragic day of their lives. At the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference this week we’ve seen and heard numerous statistics on maternal and newborn mortality, and discussed numerous ways they can be reduced. If we look at when these women and newborns die, the need to focus on the day of birth as a pivotal moment within health care provision is indisputable.

Almost half of all newborn deaths occur within the first 24 hours of life. 40% of maternal deaths occur during childbirth. By focusing on the quality and efficiency of care available to women and babies in those crucial first hours we can prevent and reduce maternal and newborn deaths, as well as significantly decreasing the number of stillbirths. We can help to ensure that day 1 in the world can be a healthy one for babies and mothers, and a joyful one for families, regardless of social, economic or geographical factors.

High quality care on the day of birth depends on certain critical interventions that are well-known but often infrequently-delivered. Examples include effective infection prevention, respectful labour care, immediate newborn neonatal resuscitation and vacuum extraction, as well as early detection and management of complications. To make childbirth a safer experience for mothers and newborns our healthcare providers must be universally capable of doing all of these with confidence on day one of a baby’s life – health workers need to be supported and local health care systems need to be strengthened.

The minimum package of care offered to mothers and babies during the first 24 hours of life must be invested in at national level so that it can get better at local level. The number of women for whom childbirth is life-threatening is unacceptable, and the number of babies who don’t live to to be two days old is devastating. A safe and supported day of birth shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be the norm.

Cover Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Sami Nurmi

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