Maternal and Infant Health

This page is not regularly updated so links and data may be out of date.

Elizabeth’s work on maternal and infant health includes that in both developing and developed contexts.

While there are well known disparities in the well-being of mothers and children between countries, there are superior breastfeeding rates in “least developed” countries. Though the USA spends more than any other country on health care, and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care, women have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 49 other countries.

Thus Western society does not necessarily advocate what is best for babies or those who care for them.

‘Experts’ have given rise to unprecedented rates of cesarean sections, advised caregivers to wean babies onto solid food prior to 6 months, prefer pushchairs to carrying and holding, and leave babies to cry themselves to sleep in their own room.

Controlled crying “is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences”. See Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Position Paper 1: Controlled Crying and First, Do No Harm: A Critique of Recent Research on “Controlled Crying”.

Western society demands the forced independence of babies and infants, and the sexualisaton of children, way before they are emotionally or biologically ready. Instinctive and healthy parenting methods are denigrated as is a parent’s capacity to support their child without recourse to corporations and medicalisation.

The World Health Organization infant feeding recommendation advocates that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and for breastfeeding to continue up to two years of age or beyond. Breastfeeding beyond two years has a range of scientifically proven benefits for children. These include nutrition, being sick less often and for shorter duration, and having fewer allergies.

Research by anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler “suggests that the normal and natural duration of breastfeeding for modern humans falls between 2.5 years at a minimum and about 7 years at a maximum”.

Please see Elizabeth’s articles on maternal and infant health below, to read more:

  • 2016-2018 Real-time monitoring: Researching and writing three case studies (data use; knowledge exchange; scale and sustainability) and nine lessons learned on decentralised near real-time monitoring (NRTM) for UNICEF, e.g. for a multisectoral approach to stunting reduction in Zimbabwe (uniting health, nutrition, social protection and WASH interventions) and to support Kenya and Uganda’s reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) scorecards through District Health Information Software (DHIS2). See the accompanying whiteboard animation.
  • September 2013 Research: UNICEF Research for Children 2013: From Evidence to Action, the first systematic attempt to showcase the breadth and depth of UNICEF’s research work. This publication includes a summary of research on Reductions in Child Mortality in Niger, and an Early Child Development Scale Up Trial in Pakistan.
  • June 2011 BreastfeedingGM cows make human breast milk: 5 reasons it’s wrong. A positive innovation to replace maligned formula, or a grotesque corporate ethics-bending exercise.
  • June 2010 BreastfeedingBreast intentions. Counselling support for bottle feeding mothers, many of whom remain unsupported in their choice to breastfeed.
  • May 2010 BreastfeedingFor mothers, worst place in world is breast place.  If you assess countries in Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report 2010 according to how well they are living up to WHO breastfeeding targets, you can flip the Save the Children ranking on its head, with developing countries coming out on top.
  • May 2010 International LawHuman rights instruments supporting motherhood. There are at least 11 international declarations, resolutions and conventions supporting parents, mothers and their children.
  • May 2010 Valuing MotherhoodMotherhood: a labour of love, a career of choice. Western society sees motherhood as a cop-out, with mothers viewed as dependent leeches within a social framework obsessed with consumerism, corporations and financial wealth.
  • toddler breastfeedingMarch 2010 BreastfeedingBreastfeeding exclusively and for longer. Research by anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler “suggests that the normal and natural duration of breastfeeding for modern humans falls between 2.5 years at a minimum and about 7 years at a maximum”.
  • March 2010 MedicalisationThe crisis of medicalised childbirth. Rates of caesarean section in many countries have increased beyond the recommended level of 15%, almost doubling in the last decade, especially in high-income areas such as Australia, France, Germany, Italy, North America and the UK.
  • March 2010 BreastfeedingShared care, compromised care. Small babies are prevented from breastfeeding so they can spend time with Dad.
  • March 2010 BreastfeedingShopping infant formula code violators. Supermarkets which promote infant formula are breaching the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes 1981 (ICMBMS).
  • March 2010 Positive DisciplineTime up for time out. With time out a child learns “I am upset and can not control my emotions, my parent does not like that, so I am banished until I modify my behaviour”. No acceptance of difficult emotions, no team-work to try and regulate the child’s distress, no modeling of more desirable problem-solving behaviour
  • February 2010 BabywearingBabywearing fosters attachment. Research shows “kangaroo mother care” reduces newborn deaths by more than 50 percent, and is more effective than incubators for stable preterm babies.
  • June 2009 Co-sleepingSafe baby co-sleeping fact sheet. Babies sleeping through the night in their own room is a western model created since the industrial revolution. It devalues the role of mothers, the needs of their babies and the support of the father and extended family, placing a premium on forced independence.
Liberty & Humanity

The strength and ubiquity of the ‘breast is best’ message means there is greater awareness than ever of the benefits of breastfeeding, increasingly advocated as the risks of formula feeding.

However, women remain unsupported in their choice to breastfeed, from work policies and a lack of timely information and support, to family attitudes and perceptions of a “good baby” as one which sleeps through the night and therefore requires slowly digested formula to do so. Read more.