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Facts for Life

Safe Motherhood

Supporting Information


Girls who are educated and healthy and who have a nutritious diet throughout their childhood and teenage years are more likely to have healthy babies and go through pregnancy and childbirth safely if childbearing begins after they are 18 years old.

Girls with more formal education are better equipped to fulfil their potential in life. They tend to know about health-care practices and are less likely to become pregnant at a very young age. They are more likely to marry later, have fewer and better-spaced pregnancies, and seek prenatal and post-natal care. It is estimated that two maternal deaths can be prevented for every additional year of school attendance per 1,000 women.

The healthy growth and development of a girl through adolescence helps to prepare her for healthy pregnancies during her childbearing years.

In addition to education and health care, girls need a nutritious diet during childhood and adolescence to reduce problems later in pregnancy and childbirth. A nutritious diet includes iodized salt and foods rich in essential minerals and vitamins such as beans and other pulses, grains, green leafy vegetables, and red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits. Whenever possible, milk or other dairy products, eggs, fish, chicken and meat should be included in the diet.

Girls who stay in school are more likely to delay marriage and childbirth. Early pregnancy can have serious consequences for adolescents under 18 years old, particularly for those under 15 years old. Adolescent girls and their babies are at much higher risk of complications and death.

It is important to empower girls to avoid early pregnancy and inform both girls and boys about the risks of early pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. They both need to develop the skills to make healthy life choices that also support equality and respect in relationships.

Genital cutting of girls and women can cause severe vaginal and urinary infections that can result in sterility or death. It can also cause dangerous complications during childbirth.

Health workers and community outreach programmes can help raise awareness of harmful practices and the importance for adolescents to delay marriage and pregnancy for their health and well-being.

Families need to understand the high risks of early pregnancy. If an adolescent girl marries early and/or becomes pregnant, her family should provide her with support and ensure she obtains the health services she needs.