24 Countries, Including Socialist Nations, Top U.S. As Best Place to Be a Mother

By Melanie Arter | May 8, 2012 | 5:28pm EDT

This undated photo provided by the Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital via the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office shows a newborn baby boy who was abducted from his screaming mother after she was repeatedly shot outside a suburban Houston pediatric center on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. The infant was wearing a green-and-white one-piece outfit displaying the word "handsome." (AP Photo/Montgomery County Sheriff's Office)

(CNSNews.com) The United States is ranked 25th among 165 countries as the best place to be a mother, with the country of Norway topping the list, according to the State of the World’s Mothers 2012 report, compiled by the non-profit group Save the Children.

Number two and three on the list are Iceland and Sweden, while Niger replaces Afghanistan as the worst place for mothers and children for the first time in two years.

New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, Slovenia, France, Portugal, Spain, Estonia, Switzerland, Canada, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania, and Belarus, respectively, all scored higher than the U.S. The U.S. was ranked 31st last year.

The report credits improvements across education indicators as “largely responsible” for the U.S. moving up on the list, but America “still performs below average overall and quite poorly on a number of measures.”

Lifetime risk of maternal mortality is one of the key indicators of maternal well-being, according to the report.

“In the United States, mothers face a 1 in 2,100 risk of maternal death – the highest of any industrialized nation. In fact, only three developed countries – Albania, Moldova and the Russian Federation – perform worse than the United States on this indicator,” the report said.

“A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Ireland or Italy to die from a pregnancy-related cause and her risk of maternal death is 15 times that of a woman in Greece,” it added.

The U.S. has the least favorable environment for women who want to breastfeed, according to the report. The U.S. was ranked last in the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard, while Norway was ranked first.

Save the Children looked at maternity leave laws and the right to nursing breaks at work, among other things in ranking 36 industrialized countries on the most and least supportive policies for women who want to breastfeed.

America also has “the least generous maternity leave policy of any wealthy nation,” the 2012 Mother’s Index report said.

“It is the only developed country – and one of only a handful of countries in the world – that does not guarantee working mothers paid leave,” it said.

“Similarly, the United States does not do as well as most other developed countries with regard to under-5 mortality. The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 births. This is on par with rates in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovakia and Qatar,” the report said.

“Forty countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. This means that a child in the U.S. is four times as likely as a child in Iceland to die before his or her 5th birthday,” it added.

The U.S. also lags behind in preschool enrollment and the political status of women, the report said. “Performance in both areas places it among the bottom 10 in the developed world.”

Norway, on the other hand, ranks “the very best (i.e. top 5) on contraceptive use, female education and political representation and has one of the most generous maternity leave policies in the developed world,” the report said. And it has “the highest ratio of female-to-male earned income and the second lowest under-5 mortality rate (tied with five other countries) in the developed world.”

According to the State Department, “Norway’s health system includes free hospital care, physicians’ compensation, cash benefits during illness and pregnancy, and other medical and dental plans.” It also has a public pension system.

“The contrast between the top-ranked country, Norway, and the lowest ranked country, Niger, is striking. Skilled health personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only 1 in 3 births are attended in Niger. In Norway, nearly 40 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women; in Niger only 13 percent are,” the report said.

“A typical Norwegian girl can expect to receive 18 years of formal education and will live to be over 83 years old. Eighty-two percent of women are using some modern method of contraception, and only 1 mother in 175 is likely to lose a child before his or her fifth birthday,” it added.

“At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Niger, a typical girl receives only 4 years of education and lives to only 56. Only 5 percent of women are using modern contraception, and 1 child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday. This means that every mother in Niger is likely to suffer the loss of a child,” the report said.

The report offered suggestions on how to bridge the divide between countries that meet the needs of their mothers and those that don’t.

“Governments and international agencies need to increase funding to improve educational levels for women and girls, provide access to maternal and child health care and advance women’s economic opportunities,” the report suggested.

“In the United States and other industrialized nations, governments and communities need to work together to improve education and health care for disadvantaged mothers and children,” it added.

It also called on the international community to improve current research and conduct new studies focusing specifically on mothers’ and children’s well-being.

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