WOMEN must time and space their pregnancies to save themselves from maternal-related deaths, a senior health expert has said. Usaid senior technical advisor Ms Maureen Norton said the number of children also determined the health status of a woman. She was speaking at a best practices forum held on the sidelines of the East Central and Southern Africa Health Community Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, recently.
"Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy protects the mother and her baby. It also allows the infant to benefit from two full years of breast-feeding," said Ms Norton.
She said delaying first pregnancy to at least 18 years, but not after 35 years, child spacing of at least two years and not too many children for each mother reduces the risk of loss of lives.
Ms Norton said evidence of data from Ethiopia, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania showed that more deaths at pregnancy were occurring in women below 20 years compared to those between 20 and 29 years.
She said the recommended interval before attempting the next pregnancy according to World Health Organisation standards was at least 24 months.
After an abortion or miscarriage, the period should be at least six months.
Spacing should be not longer than five years apart, said Ms Norton.
According to the approach dubbed "Health Timing and Spacing of Pregnancies (HTSP)", the risk of complications such as pre-term, low birth weight, still births, miscarriage, induced abortions, new born and infant deaths among others would be minimal.
On timing of pregnancies, Ms Norton said evidence showed that there were high figures of adolescent pregnancies.
In Niger, for example, at least 42 percent of pregnancies are from adolescents.
Ms Norton said there was a high percentage of short pregnancy intervals in all births among poor households and in Ghana this situation accounted for 50 percent, while in Uganda it accounted for 70 percent.
She said the number of times a woman was exposed to pregnancy determined her chances of dying from pregnancy or related complications. In Zimbabwe, according to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (2010/11), about 6 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 49 engage in sexual activity at 15 years and the average number of children expected per woman is four.
According to the survey, the number of children expected per woman has slightly increased from 3,8 to 4,1.
National Family Planning Council of Zimbabwe said these figures indicated an increase in the number of expected children per woman.