Born on Time: Helping Newborns Survive and Thrive

I still remember my first contractions the night of my birthday. I was in denial and absolutely not ready to become a mother just yet: I had an “important” meeting the next day at work, I hadn’t purchased the baby car seat, and even my baby shower was planned for the following weekend. It could not be happening a month earlier! Yet, it did, and a couple of hours later, I had my little boy screaming on my chest. Adam was a premature baby (a premature birth is one that occurs before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy) with low birth weight. In the first 24 hours of his life, he had difficulty maintaining his body temperature, but overall he was a healthy baby. Health professionals monitored him closely while we were bonding “skin to skin” under a warm blanket. I felt privileged to be able to give birth in a safe and intimate space, with midwives providing quality care to my son and myself. Four years later, I am grateful to watch Adam growing healthy and strong.

I have heard so many stories of childbirth from friends and relatives; they are all unique, full of adrenaline and passion. The ones that are fundamentally unfair are the stories that don’t have a happy ending. That was the case of Aisha, a woman from Sikasso, a city in the West African country of Mali. Aisha had experienced not one, not two, but five deliveries of premature babies that sadly all passed away within the first days of life. She thought her babies died because neighbours had bewitched them. It’s hard to imagine the pain of losing even one baby, especially when I know there are ways to prevent preterm birth.  In low-income countries like Mali, the chance of survival of extremely premature babies (below 28 weeks) is around 10%, compared to the 90% chance of survival observed in Canada.

Did you know that prematurity is the leading cause of deaths for children under 5? According to the World Health Organization, every day, 7,000 newborns die. This is even more outrageous when you realize that most of these losses could have been prevented with low-cost and low-tech solutions.

Preventing death and complications from preterm birth starts with a healthy pregnancy. Born on Time is a unique project that is dedicated to the prevention of preterm birth in three countries with some of the highest rates of babies being born too soon:  Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali. Implemented by Plan International, World Vision and Save the Children, Born on Time supports the empowerment of women and adolescent girls to make decisions about their own lives, including access to health care, using contraceptives, and healthy spacing between pregnancies. The project also engages men, boys and community leaders to recognize and transform the harmful social norms that affect the health of women and girls, including those which condone intimate partner violence. Born on Time seeks to find solutions to the barriers that women and girls face to accessing sexual and reproductive health services while also championing the realization of their sexual and reproductive health rights.

Every woman, regardless of who she is, or where she lives, has the right to a healthy, full term pregnancy, and every newborn has the right to survive and thrive.

Thanks to Born on Time, Aisha is now aware of the danger signs during pregnancy and the risk factors related to preterm birth. Her husband, Traoré, learned how to actively support his wife by helping her with household chores and accompanying her to health services to learn more about maternal and child care. Aisha feels that communication with her husband about family planning has improved and she is able to make her own decisions related to her health. When Aisha got pregnant again, they attended regular antenatal care visits, took measures to prevent malaria and other infectious diseases, ensured that she ate healthy and nutritious foods, and avoided a heavy workload and strenuous activities, such as fetching water. She gave birth to Issiaka, a beautiful full term and healthy baby boy.

Amal Ben Ameur, health and nutrition advisor at Save the Children