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Shiuli’s Story: How Education and Care Can Prevent Preterm Birth

A mother holds her baby daughter. (Image: Plan International)

At the age of 15, Shiuli was forced to drop out of school and get married against her will. She became a mother for the first time at 16, but not by her choosing. By the time Shiuli was 19, she was pregnant with her second child. Already married for four years, she shouldered the heavy burden of maintaining her husband’s large household of extended family members as well as caring for her own child. Her days were busy fetching water, washing clothes, and performing the arduous household tasks demanded of her. There seemed to be no time for proper prenatal care.

The daily physical labour took a toll on Shiuli. Just seven months into her pregnancy, she went into labor with her second child. Sadly, her newborn baby was too weak to survive and died four days later.

A staggering 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year, mostly in low and middle-income countries. The consequences are dire. Studies show babies born to adolescent mothers face a higher risk of death than those born to women aged 20-24. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls because adolescents are less likely to access prenatal care services and are more prone to key risk factors for preterm birth such as STIs, inadequate nutrition, and gender-based violence.

201409-BGD-45-scr.jpgA mother in Bangladesh holds her newborn baby.
Image: Plan International

While Shiuli’s story is all too common for young women in developing countries, there is a solution. Empowering adolescent girls with reproductive and sexual health information and ensuring their access to quality health services and contraception directly impact their own health and well-being. It supports their ability to make decisions concerning healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies and ultimately contributes to full-term babies that survive and thrive.  

Shiuli is pregnant again, and after the painful experience of losing her baby she has become a powerful advocate for her own health and for a healthy pregnancy. She is regularly attending her prenatal care visits, following the advice of her “doctor apa” - "a local expression which is a way of showing respect for female doctors.” She has enlisted her husband as a supportive partner who is helping with some of the heavy chores that endangered her previous pregnancy.

Born On Time, a public-private partnership for the prevention of preterm birth, is committed to helping women achieve healthy, full-term pregnancies in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali, three countries with some of the highest preterm birth rates in the world.

201406-BGD-18-scr.jpgA man in Bangladesh with his baby daughter
Image: Plan International

Bringing together expertise and resources from World Vision, Plan International, Save the Children, the Government of Canada and Johnson & Johnson, Born on Time program is designed to reduce preterm birth following a holistic, integrated approach that aims to empower women and adolescent girls while engaging men, boys and community leaders to tackle gender-based discrimination and barriers that impact maternal and newborn health

Every mother deserves a healthy, full term pregnancy, and every newborn has the right to thrive. Born On Time is expected to directly impact the lives of more than 196,000 adolescent girls and close to 933,000 women of reproductive age (20 and up).

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