The best (and worst) places to be a mother

In total, 173 countries were ranked and the disparities between the top and bottom countries were staggering for mother and child care.

Thousands of moms had some kick-back time with families this past Mother’s Day sharing memories, enjoying a meal, or maybe a day out.

But many more didn’t and millions around the world have never heard of Mother’s Day.

In commemoration of that special day and for all mothers everywhere, the Save the Children organization published its thirteenth annual State of the World’s Mothers 2012 report, a profile of how developed, developing and third world countries fair in relation to the needs of mothers and their children.

Save the Children is the leading independent organization dedicated to saving and bettering the lives of children. But some of the stats in their report are sobering.

“Malnutrition is an underlying cause of death for 2.6 million children each year,” the report’s authors wrote. “And it leaves millions more with lifelong physical and mental impairments.”

They said that, worldwide, much of a child’s future, and therefore much of a nation’s future, is determined by the quality of nutrition in a child’s first 1,000 days. More than 170 million children do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential because poor nutrition has held them back.

The time from the beginning of a mother’s pregnancy through to the child’s second birthday is a critical window when a child’s brain and body are rapidly developing and quality nutrition lays the foundation not only for that formative growth but for the future life of the child.

Their key findings show that out of 73 developing countries, which collectively account for 95 per cent of child deaths, only four – Malawi, Madagascar, Peru and the Solomon Islands – scored ‘very good’.  Stunted growth and development is widespread.

They found that economic growth does not necessarily translate into juvenile well-being. India, for example, has a per capita GDP of $1,500 yet 48 per cent of its children are stunted compared with Vietnam where the per capita GDP is $1,200 while their child stunting rate is 23 per cent.

As for breastfeeding, considered by the World Health Organization to be the best form of infant feeding in the first six months of life anywhere in the world, the stats were surprising, if not embarrassing for some, including Canada.

On their Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard for Developed Countries, Norway ranked the highest with a 9.8 score while Canada was way down the list at 31st with a fair score of 5.4 and the U.S. ranked last with a poor score of a mere 4.2.

The ranking wasn’t just whether or not mothers chose to breastfeed their babies but whether there were adequate and supportive government policies in place for maternity leave, parental leave (for mothers and fathers) and, when new mothers returned to work, the right to nursing breaks.

As for the overall Mothers’ Index Rankings (i.e., the best places to be a mother), the top ten countries in the developed world were, in order, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, and Netherlands/U.K. (tied). Canada ranked in 19th place (up from 20th last year) and the U.S. in 25th position. The worst place to be a mother in the world was Niger.

In total, 173 countries were ranked and the disparities between the top and bottom countries were staggering at every stage of mother and child care. But they underline the fact that, in the bigger picture, statistics go far beyond numbers.

“The human despair and lost opportunities represented in these numbers demand mothers everywhere be given the basic tools they need to break the cycle of poverty and improve the quality of life for themselves, their children, and for generations to come.”

The report can be seen at www.savethechildren.org.