Empowering Families to Safeguard Newborn Health

Jun 30, 2014


Deborah Kidd
science writer

In two short weeks, my daughter will turn one year old. Looking back at her newborn photos, I wonder how this year went by so quickly. How could that wrinkly creature who could scarcely open her eyes or control her little limbs now be this squawking, nearly walking toddler? A solid and healthy tyke today, she seemed so delicate and breakable back then. It's no wonder my anxiety ran amok! What if her swaddling covered her mouth while she slept? How could we tell if her skin tinged the slightest bit, threatening jaundice? And how could I politely convince neighbors and friends to slather themselves in antibacterial gel?

I had an online community of mothers and easy access to pediatricians to help me keep my girl safe and healthy. In places where new parenthood is fraught with far greater threats, the recent Every Newborn Action Plan aims to bring the same security. Issued by a partnership that includes UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and boosted by supportive evidence published in The Lancet, the action plan calls for a renewed commitment to dramatically improve the health and survival of newborn babies and their mothers. Coupled with the global commitment to safeguard the fragile health of all children under five years old through the 2012 Promise Renewed pledge, this new plan completes a circle of protection for the most vulnerable among us.

While plans like these center on inspiring action among policymakers and donors, they are supplemented by tools that communities and families can implement today to increase children's chances at a healthy start. Chief among these early interventions is breastfeeding, which gets to work straightaway to help develop infants' immune systems, improving responses to vaccines and preventing infections including pneumonia and diarrhea.

Another powerful tool at a mother's disposal is her voice. One of the most striking statements in The Lancet's summary of its Every Newborn article series notes that the most affected communities can often be “the most vocal agents for change.” Not all mothers have a platform like this very blog to share news, encourage healthy behaviors, and call for national commitments to their families' health. But a key component of the Every Newborn plan aims to empower and engage parents. I am proud to lend my voice to raise awareness about the urgent needs for health equity and the opportunity for all mothers and fathers to rely on a safe start for their children. And I hope to raise a daughter who one day adds her voice to this global community as well.