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What’s the best place to be a new mom? Not the U.S., says Save the Children report

It’s up from last year, but our ranking is just 25th, right between Belarus and the Czech Republic.

The plight of new mothers in the US? Somewhere between Belarus and the Czech Republic.

Save the Children released its annual State of the World’s Mothers report Tuesday, just in time for Mother’s Day. The report compares 165 countries on such factors as maternal health, child mortality rates, breastfeeding rates, and the educational and economic status of mothers, and then ranks the countries from best to worst as places to be a new mom.

There’s some encouraging news this year for the United States: We’re six positions higher on the overall list than we were last year, thanks mostly to improvements in efforts to educate women.

But here’s the disturbing news: Our ranking is 25th, right between Belarus and the Czech Republic.

At the top of the list: Norway, followed by Iceland and Sweden. At the bottom: Niger.

Why we’re only 25th

The authors of the Save the Children report cite several reasons for the United States’ unimpressive ranking:

  • One of the key indicators of maternal well-being is lifetime risk of maternal mortality. In the United States, mothers face a 1 in 2,100 risk of maternal death – the highest of any industrialized nation. In fact, only three developed countries – Albania, Moldova and the Russian Federation – perform worse than the United States on this indicator. A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Ireland or Italy to die from a pregnancy-related cause and her risk of maternal death is 15 times that of a woman in Greece.
  • Similarly, the United States does not do as well as most other developed countries with regard to under-5 mortality. The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 births. This is on par with rates in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovakia and Qatar. Forty countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. This means that a child in the U.S. is four times as likely as a child in Iceland to die before his or her 5th birthday.
  • The United States is also lagging behind with regard to preschool enrollment and the political status of women. Performance in both areas places it among the bottom 10 in the developed world.
  • The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy of any wealthy nation. It is the only developed country – and one of only a handful of countries in the world – that does not guarantee working mothers paid leave.

The U.S. also lags behind — far behind — in developing policies and programs that encourage breastfeeding.

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“In the industrialized world, the United States has the least favorable environment for mothers who want to breastfeed,” the Save the Children report points out. “Save the Children examined maternity leave laws, the right to nursing breaks at work, and several other indicators to create a ranking of 36 industrialized countries measuring which ones have the most – and the least – supportive policies for women who want to breastfeed. Norway tops the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard ranking. The United States comes in last.”

Breast milk is considered the healthiest food for most infants and babies, and the World Health Organization, among other health-related groups, recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for at least six months and that breastfeeding continue, along with the introduction of other foods, for up to two years.

A dramatic and disturbing gap

What’s even more disturbing than the U.S.’s poor ranking, however, is the huge difference in health outcomes among mothers and children in the richest and the poorest countries:

The gap in availability of maternal and child health services is especially dramatic when comparing Norway and Niger. Skilled health personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only a third of births are attended in Niger. A typical Norwegian girl can expect to receive 18 years of formal education and to live to be over 83 years old. Eighty-two percent of women are using some modern method of contraception, and only 1 in 175 is likely to lose a child before his or her fifth birthday. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Niger, a typical girl receives only 4 years of education and lives to be only 56. Only 5 percent of women are using modern contraception, and 1 child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday. At this rate, every mother in Niger is likely to suffer the loss of a child.

You can read the report in full on Save the Children’s website.