These Adorable Baby Photos Show Why Maternal and Infant Health Matter

Olivia Kestin
Daniele Selby
Pia Gralki
Global Citizen
Publication Year:
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being

Though Mother's Day is observed on different days around the world, everyone agrees that mothers deserve their own celebration. It's the one special day that people devote to the women who brought them into this world — but the truth is, we should honor moms every day of the year for their incredible feats. 

Creating life and raising healthy, happy children is no easy task. More than 800 women and girls die every single day of pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications, the World Health Organization estimates. And each day more than 7,000 newborn babies fail to make it through their 24 hours in the world, according to UNICEF. More than 80% of these newborn deaths are caused by premature birth, infections, or labor- and delivery-related complications, according to a new UNICEF report.

Many, if not most, of these deaths are preventable.

In a new series of stunning portraits, taken by award-winning photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien in partnership with UNICEF, we’re able to see mothers and babies from around the world whose lives have been changed by access to life-saving resources, like breathing masks and counselling support for new mothers.

When trained health care workers and affordable medical care are within reach, women with pre-existing conditions, like epilepsy, can safely deliver healthy babies. And when mothers have access to educational resources, they can learn to care for their babies and identify the symptoms of potentially life-threatening illnesses and conditions in their infants before they progress.

Mothers in developing countries don’t always have access to such necessities. The majority of infant and maternal deaths occur in developing countries, like Pakistan, where 46 in every 1,000 babies die within their first month of life — the worst newborn mortality rate in the world.

But it’s not just a country’s income level that impacts the survival rates of its mothers and babies. It’s also availability of affordable, quality health care.

Despite its low income level, Rwanda has cut its newborn mortality rate in half and reduced its maternal mortality rate by 75% since 1990. Conversely, the maternal mortality rate in the United States rose substantially between 1990 and 2015, NPR reported. But risk did not increase consistently across populations. Black women in the US are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications than white women, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black babies in the US also face worse odds of survival than white babies, but as a whole, the newborn mortality rate — nearly on par with that of countries like Ukraine and Sri Lanka — is surprisingly low for a high-income country.

If all mothers and babies had access to affordable medications and treatments, administered by well-trained medical staff in clean facilities that have both safe water and electricity, the lives of 3 million newborns could be saved every year. 

UNICEF’s “Every Child Alive” campaign is calling on world leaders to ensure all mothers and their babies have access to quality health care, and Njiokiktjien’s captivating images show what’s possible when they do. Every child deserves a fair chance at a happy and healthy childhood, and every mother deserves a chance to watch her child grow up.


Check out the images here.


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