Caring for Mothers

For millions of women around the world, pregnancy and childbirth prove deadly. Here's how you can help.


American mothers prepare for birth by interviewing doctors, touring maternity wards, researching pain management techniques and decorating nurseries. Imagine preparing for—and going through—delivery with no medical support. Imagine if becoming a mother proved deadly. For millions of women, that's the reality.

According to UNICEF's 2008 Report Card on Maternal Mortality, 50 million births worldwide are unattended by trained professionals, and 536,000 women die annually from pregnancy- and birth-related causes. In West Africa and Afghanistan, 1 in 7 women dies; in America, it's 1 in 10,000. The World Health Organization reports that 1 million children a year are left motherless as a result.

Poverty is a direct cause, and since 1945, CARE has fought it worldwide, especially among women. One CARE program, Mothers Matter, is making pregnancy safer for 30 million women in 10 countries by addressing fundamental causes of maternal mortality: Poor women can't always plan pregnancies. They can't afford lifesaving medical care. They live far from health facilities, which may not even have basic medicines, supplies or trained staff. They have limited transportation and education. "Traveling with CARE and meeting women in countries like Peru made me appreciate how fortunate mothers are in the U.S., where safe pregnancy and birth is not only respected but a right," says Christy Turlington Burns, a businesswoman, model, mother and CARE Advocate for Maternal Health. Her work for CARE has included successfully lobbying for support from the U.S. Congress to help improve maternal health care worldwide.

Small changes, big results

One CARE program implemented in rural Peru, Foundations to Enhance Management of Maternal Emergencies (FEMME), demonstrated a 50 percent reduction in maternal mortality in five years, making it the model for global change. FEMME upgraded five emergency facilities and an intensive care unit, trained staff, added doctors and blood banks, and sent personnel to larger hospitals to learn current medical techniques. Infant mortality also dropped.

Simple changes decreased pregnant women's fear of seeking care, explains CARE president Helen Gayle, M.D.: "Calling patients by name instead of bed number; providing translators; allowing family to stay with women; adding curtains for privacy; building birthing chairs." (For generations, women in Peru have delivered at home by holding onto a rope tied to their rafters and squatting. Delivering in a bed with stirrups was foreign to them, so hospitals built birthing chairs to honor their cultural preferences.)

You don't have to go overseas to help. "Get your church or civic organizations involved," Gayle says. "Tell policymakers these issues are important. Contribute resources to CARE or other humanitarian organizations." For more information or to get involved, join the CARE Action Network at or log on to CARE Connections' social network at Because mothers matter.