Iceland has not had a recorded maternal mortality in several years. Highly developed resources, universal health care, access to contraceptives, lower birth rate and almost non-existent teen pregnancy all contribute to the very low maternal mortality rate. For comparative purposes, the maternal mortality rate can only be estimated, and many years will go by between single maternal death events.
Why are maternal mortality events so rare and maternal health so high in Iceland? There are many contributing factors. Extensive pre-natal care of at least six months duration is offered to all women. These benefits include about ten health care visits prior to birth by a range of health care professionals. If the pregnancy is high risk, the mother will be allowed to remain in the hospital for several days for more constant monitoring. Unlike the health care system of several other highly developed countries, the Icelandic system has not become as overly medicalized. Only 17% of all mothers have a C-section. Midwives and home births are actively encouraged and supported throughout the entire process (UN MDG 5) (10 Best Countries For Maternal Health Care).
To help the family after birth, there is an extensive family leave support system for the mother, child and partner. At-home health care professional visits, time off for both mother and partner, as well as a child benefits program to help compensate parents for the additional expense of a child, all contributed to lower stress levels and the ability to fully recover.
Icelandic Best Practices
Iceland is a very small country with comparatively few births overall, which contributes to the very low number of maternal mortality events. If their health care system were to be exported to other countries, one would expect a significant reduction in maternal deaths. The modeled estimate is only five deaths for every 100,000 births. That is a rate most countries would be proud of, and it is well within the reach of many. The Icelandic system can serve as a best practices country for other nations to follow.
What Can I Learn and Do?
Most developed countries have a system very similar to Iceland’s. If you are in one of these countries, we encourage you to continue to support the required funding to make childbirth a safe experience for both mother and child. Resist push-back from the austerity calls to reduce health care services. Also, become more aware of the limitations of your own health care system. Some developed countries limit access to full health care for immigrants, for instance, and these limitations can contribute to higher maternal mortality events among these sub-populations.
If you are in the United States, there are numerous petitions that can be signed to encourage the government to begin to implement better programming for improved maternal health. Rather than waiting for national level standards to improve, you can begin to take a stand now. You have more options than you probably know about. Help change the C-section culture and early induction practices that have become common in American society over the last few decades and which contribute directly to higher maternal deaths. Be proactive in your communities to advocate for better services and encourage better attitudes toward helping the women in your communities. This is a community problem and everyone’s collective effort is needed.