No pressure, Mom!

Annie Murphy Paul's new book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, is getting the star treatment. It is the subject of a Time magazine cover story (written by Paul), and an article by the New York Times' Motherlode blogger, Lisa Belkin.

And why not? Paul has written what looks to be a fascinating exploration of the explosion of research on the effects of the environment human beings encounter while developing in their mothers' wombs.Origins by Annie Murphy Paul

In a guest post for Motherlode (the link is above), Paul writes, "Startling as it may seem, qualities ranging from our intelligence to our temperament to our health, and our susceptibility to diseases as varied as cancer, asthma, obesity, diabetes and mental illness, are affected by our experiences as fetuses decades ago."

We have already considered one aspect of this research here at Birth Story, how a mother's weight gain during pregnancy can influence her infant's lifetime chances of being able to maintain a healthy weight. But Paul covers the waterfront in this "new chapter in the long-running nature-nurture debate," as she calls it.

In her Motherlode guest post, Paul raises and then downplays the likelihood that mothers will be blamed for anything that goes awry with their children, given the new understandings of the importance of what goes on in the womb.

Love Paul's optimism! And, I'm impressed she researched this book while she was pregnant. I'm looking forward to reading it.

“The Girl Effect”

Saving women's lives in the developing world can start very early, with the education of young girls. That's the message of the "The Girl Effect," an initiative of the Nike Foundation, which has been working to lift girls out of poverty since 2004.

"The Girl Effect," a collaboration with the NoVo Foundation, focuses attention on the importance of reaching pre-adolescent girls before they are carried off into marriage, pregnancy and, often, another revolution of the cycle of poverty.

“If there’s a time to act in the fight against poverty, it’s when a girl stands at the crossroads of adolescence – yet today less than half a cent of every dollar spent on international assistance programs is invested directly in girls. We believe the girl effect deserves more attention,” Maria Eitel, president of the Nike Foundation, has said.

"The Girl Effect" first made a splash with the following video.

In these three days, 2,942 deaths in childbirth

Every ninety seconds, somewhere in the world, a mother dies in childbirth. For three days this week, in Times Square in New York City, Amnesty International, a global human rights group, placed a "maternal death clock" to note each minute-and-a-half marker.

The clock was hung in conjunction with the big meeting the United Nations was hosting, the subject of which was how the nations of the world are doing on eliminating poverty and other ills, including infant and maternal mortality.

So far, Goal 5 (of the eight Millennium Development Goals), cutting maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015, is lagging the rest.

All told, nearly 1,000 women die in childbirth every day, according to estimates by the U.N. and the World Bank.

“It’s such a clear example of people dying who don’t need to,” Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International USA. told the New York Times' Clyde Haberman this week.

Summit goals: Save more mothers, babies

World leaders gathered in New York this week for the so-called September Summit to beat the drums for the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, one of which is slashing the rate of maternal mortality in the developing world.

The official name of the meeting is "The High-Level Plenary Session of the General Assembly." This year, the spotlight is on the MDG. Only five years remain until the 2015 deadline for meeting the eight goals; however, only a couple of them are likely to be met by then.

Barring a breakthrough, Goal 5, reducing maternal deaths by 75 percent, will not be one of the successes.

The World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently issued an update on Goal 5. The goals were set in 1990. The update looked at the most recent figures, which are from 2008.

While 10 of the 87 countries targeted in the program have brought down their rates of maternal mortality by 5.5 percent, 30  other countries have made little or no progress.

Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths in 2008 occurred in the developing world.

How hospitals can promote breast-feeding

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, an international program, has created a list of things birth facilities in the United States can do to optimize the chances that mothers will choose to breast-feed their babies.

Here are "The Ten Steps To Successful Breast-feeding," from BFHI USA:

    1. Have a written breast-feeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health-care staff.
    2. Train all health-care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
    3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breast-feeding.
    4. Help mothers initiate breast-feeding within one hour of birth.
    5. Show mothers how to breast-feed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
    6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
    7. Practice “rooming in” — allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
    8. Encourage breast-feeding on demand.
    9. Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breast-feeding infants.
    10. Foster the establishment of breast-feeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

The BFHI is underwritten by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).