Saving Mothers

Saving Mothers is a nonprofit committed to improving maternal health worldwide.
Recent Tweets @savingmothers
Who I Follow
Of the 23 graduates, 15 still continue their training and education with the School of POWHER. Concepcion, Guatemala Project Coordinator, set up a surprise meeting with comadronas for me.  Since graduation, they have been having monthly meetings with Concepcion.  During these meetings they schedule the month’s activities—including prenatal visits with Concepcion (preceptor), monthly lectures held by the MOH exclusively for Saving Mothers comadrona students—and discuss any concerns regarding their experiences.
De las 23 graduadas, 15 aún continúan sus practica clinica y educación con la Escuela de POWHER. Concepción, Coordinadora del Proyecto en Guatemala, organizó una reunión sorpresa con las 15 comadronas. Desde su graduación, que han estado teniendo reuniones mensuales con Concepción. Durante estas reuniones se programan actividades del mes- incluyendo visitas prenatales con Concepción (preceptor), conferencias mensuales que se realizan por el Ministerio de Salud exclusivamente para las estudiantes de la Escuela de POWHER - y discutir cualquier preocupación con respecto a sus experiencias.


Saving Mothers’ is in Newsweek for it’s collaborative project, the Kangaroo Mother Care sling. Click here to read the article. 

What is Kangaroo Mother Care?

The risk of neonatal death due to complications of preterm birth is twelve times higher for babies born in low-income countries compared to those born in high-income countries; this incongruity in survival is in part due to a lack of essential newborn care in rural clinics as well as a shortage of incubators in hospitals in less developed countries.

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) was developed thirty-five years ago to address this incubator shortage in the developing world and provide a means for low birth weight babies to receive optimal care in low resource settings. The practice entails holding a newborn skin-to-skin against the mother’s chest. KMC has beneficial effects beyond survival, such as regulating body temperature, reducing stress, boosting the immune system, and creating an emotional bond between mother and baby. According to the WHO, KMC can reduce up to 450,000 preterm deaths each year by 2015 if universally accepted.

Creating a global device for KMC

Despite WHO recommendations, KMC is not universally accepted. So Erica Weinstein, Kim McClinch, and Elizabeth LaRosa, graduate students at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, set out to design a specialized device to accelerate the uptake of this life-saving intervention. Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, Medical Programs Director of the non-profit Saving Mothers, mentored the graduate students throughout the project and Saving Mothers provided seed funding for the development of an initial prototype. 

Because there is no standardized device that allows KMC to be seamlessly adopted in low-resource settings, it can be difficult for mothers to provide continuous care for their newborns throughout the day. This need was tackled in the initial design of the KMC device, creating an inexpensive, ergonomic, and culturally sensitive product that maximizes skin-to-skin contact, the hallmark practice of KMC.

The graduate students and Saving Mothers are collaborating to launch the device within the next six months at various clinics and home birth settings in developing countries.

By Taraneh Shirazian, M.D., Cofounder and Medical Director of Saving Mothers

On our last outreach trip to the Dominican Republic, Saving Mothers learned that domestic violence is the 4th cause of death for women in the DR.  For the annual community health leader (cooperadora) meeting held the first week of August, we decided to understand from our health workers the extent of the issue in the communities they serve.

Saving Mothers invited an IPV specialist, Sonia Rodriguez, LMSW, who works for Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program (SAVI) to join us for candid group discussions with our health workers.

We conducted 5 focus groups with a sampling of the 110 cooperadoras to learn more about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in the communities they serve. The focus groups provided further insight into the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs surrounding IPV. We learned that IPV is fairly prevalent, with cooperadoras citing a range of 20-70% of women affected. Unfortunately, many cooperadoras know of women who have been killed as a result of IPV and many knew firsthand recent victims of IPV. Common beliefs that emerged from these candid discussions with the health workers were the belief that the woman was at fault in IPV and that improved communication between couples would improve the issue.  Many cooperadoras did not believe that IPV was a medical issue, but rather a social one to be dealt with by the church or legal venues. Many were also not certain of referral mechanisms in their communities for victims of IPV. Also, death was a frequently mentioned outcome of IPV in many of the communities. The health workers expressed a desire to learn more about how best to serve the women in their communities.

Saving Mothers will continue to understand the issue of IPV is the Dominican Republic and empower our cooperadoras to feel comfortable referring women to resources that will improve their lives and prevent death. 

Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section ran a particularly affecting article this week entitled “Saving Mothers in Afghanistan: Progress, Challenges and the Road Ahead.” The article focused on the grim state of maternal health in Afghanistan, where a woman dies every two hours from pregnancy-related health complications. Postpartum hemorrhage, eclampsia, obstructed labor: These are the main causes of maternal death in Afghanistan, and they are all extremely treatable.


At Saving Mothers, our mission has been to try and reduce these kinds of needless deaths by providing training and resources to nurses and midwives and advocating for the use of effective and inexpensive drug treatments that can help prevent serious health complications. Knowing that treatment is widely and inexpensively available and yet remains inaccessible to so many women in Afghanistan is heartbreaking, but reading articles like this remind us why organizations like Saving Mothers are so important and why we need to continue to work to spread information about maternal healthcare. We really encourage you to read the article and to check out some additional resources on maternal health in Afghanistan. Learning more about the serious plight facing expectant mothers in that country is the first step we can all take to helping these women thrive. 

With all of the sobering news coming out of Gaza and Israel over the past few weeks, things are looking pretty bleak. But this past week, this article and this one  caught my eye and made me feel a little more optimistic about the state of the world. While no one knows when the fighting will end, it’s important to be reminded that people are capable of looking beyond the strife and hatred. In tough times, it’s so important to focus on what people share — like the desire to watch their children grow up healthy and strong — rather than on their differences.

Yuval Roth, founder of Road to Recovery, uses volunteer drivers to transport Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals (photo credit: CNN).

Recently we were so impressed by John Bernhelm of San Francisco, when he dove into the Pacific Ocean to help raise money for Saving Mothers with the Cold Water Challenge — a charity challenge shared over social media. We asked John a bit about his experience, and why he chose to support Saving Mothers and maternal health.

Q: How did you hear about the Cold Water Challenge? Were you called out by a friend before participating?
A: A few of my friends and family from back East posted Cold Water Challenges on Facebook early this summer. I didn’t think much of it then, because I figured it seems like a better idea when it’s a steamy 95°F outside, and I was dubious of the value of positive social network peer pressure. That changed when my uncle posted a video of his son drenching him with a cooler full of ice water and then challenged me to do the same. The basic idea is that if someone doesn’t feel up to the challenge, they should donate to the charitable organization of the challenger’s choice. I liked the other option - suffer a bit of cold and good-natured public humility while getting the ball back in your court to name a different organization and challenge others. I felt the “standard” rules of giving the challenged a small 24 hour response window and giving less to your chosen organization upon performing the challenge kind of lame, so I changed things up a bit. Also, California is suffering a severe drought, so why not use the cold waters of the Pacific instead of wasting valuable potable H2O?

Q: Why did you choose to support Saving Mothers?
A: I came across Saving Mothers back in 2010 when I was looking for an out-of-the-box Mother’s Day gift. A good friend had posted about the organization on facebook - there’s that social media at work again - and I knew my mom would rather have a donation to a great cause in her name than another Amazon gift certificate. Since the day I ended up doing the Cold Water Challenge happened to be my mother’s birthday, I thought I’d make another gift in thanks of the love and care she has provided all of my life and for the healthcare support we have been fortunate to receive living in a developed country. Also, I planned to call her out in the challenge, so maybe choosing Saving Mothers was the spoonful of sugar to help the icy water go down.

Q: Why do you think maternal health an important global issue?
A: Maternal health speaks to the very base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the entire society. A mother’s health is necessary for her and her family to survive, thrive, and aspire to self-actualization. I believe that the physical and social stresses caused by maternal complications stand in the way of fighting poverty, hunger, and violence the world over. A healthy beginning and a strong family gives a child it’s best chance to grow, learn, and make a difference, regardless of where she or he may live. What’s more is that so many maternal health issues can be solved with proper training and access to the right resources! So I see Saving Mothers work at bringing those things to places that need them most a super important step, not only in saving mothers and children, but in saving the world!

Q: What do you take away from this experience?
A: A little cold water and light-hearted social-network-shaming never hurt anybody. I had fun with the cold water challenge, and though the whole idea is pretty silly, if a bunch of people learned about Saving Mothers, some made generous donations to a great cause, and at least one passed on the challenge to others, then it was totally worth dragging my roommate to the beach one chilly morning and getting a nice Pacific Ocean wakeup call.
Thanks so much for your support, John! 
Feeling inspired? Check out John’s video, and start a Cold Water Challenge of your own!

Today was the big day for the students at the Comadrona School of POWHER, the commencement they’ve been working toward for over three months. Graduation was held at Santiago’s town center, where students gathered with their families cheering them on. 

Greeting each other warmly as new friends and colleagues, they filed into the building and took their seats at the front of the room. The ceremony kicked off with Saving Mothers’ Guatemala Program Director Jessica Oliveira addressing the audience, explaining how incredibly far each of the 22 students has come since they started at the School, and how much they have meant to her and the organization. Saving Mothers is so fortunate to be working with community members who will make sustainable change in Santiago for years to come.

Oliveira was followed by Dr. Juan Chumil, the Medical Director of the Centro de Salud in Santiago, and Dr. Diego Hernandez, District Director for the Ministry of Health — both men expressing how much the entire community supports and appreciates the graduates’ hard work, and how much of a difference they will make for the women who live in Santiago. 


Program Director Jessica Oliveira greeting her students and their families before the ceremony began.


The students took their seats in their Saving Mothers uniforms at the front of the room as their families and friends looked on behind them. Volunteers from one of Saving Mothers’ partners in Santiago, the Centro de Salud, provided amazing decorations to celebrate the occasion.


Several of the graduates were supported by their children, reminding everyone of the importance of safe, healthy and happy births. 

Then the moment all the graduates had been waiting for arrived. One by one, they walked across the stage to receive their certificates of graduation — marking the end of long, challenging weeks of classroom and clinical training, and the beginning of their careers as local health providers. It was incredible to see each one of them turn to the audience, certificate in hand, having not only gained knowledge, but also confidence in their experience and skills. 


Each graduate gave their instructor a big hug as they accepted their certificate to a resounding round of applause from the audience and Saving Mother staff members seated on stage.



The very first class of graduates from the Comadrona School of POWHER. We couldn’t be more proud of them, or excited to see what they will make possible for the community of Santiago in the future.

As a surprise, students presented Oliveira and Saving Mothers President Nichole Young-Lin and Medical Director Taraneh Shirazian with certificates of their own to thank them for their commitment to the program, the curriculum, and making the school possible. All of the Saving Mothers staff in attendance was floored by their gratitude. 


After the ceremony it was party time, with delicious food catered by a local restaurant, children skipping around the room, music, and laughter. The graduates enjoyed well-deserved congratulations.


It was truly an exceptional day, full of emotion, pride and excitement for what is possible in this community as the program grows and evolves. 

With our very first class from the School of POWHER already making a remarkable impact in the local area, we are currently working on making a second class possible. But we can’t do it alone. 

You can be a part of the school of POWHER. Click here to support the program today, and your contribution will go directly toward educating a future comadrona who can make lasting change for many.

As the first class of the Comadrona School of POWHER nears graduation, instructor Jessica Oliveira has put together a fun final week for her students to review everything they have learned and prepare for the work that lies ahead.


Today, the 22 women who have invested the time in learning how to ensure safe and healthy births in their communities gathered as usual, chatting excitedly, solidifying new friendships they found through the program. In groups, they simulated how they would respond to medical emergencies ranging from breech births to postnatal bleeding. They played a game of darts, popping balloons containing questions about how to recognize the symptoms of STDs and other infections. They took class photos to be proudly posted on the Saving Mothers website. 


Two bright skylights illuminate the classroom at the local radio station Voce de Atitlán, where the 22 students gather two to three times a week. 

The students broke into groups to tackle a medical emergency and determine what they would do if they arrived at a home birth where a woman was experiencing anything from a breech birth to postnatal bleeding. Learning in groups is common at the School of POWHER.

Groups then acted out in short skits how they would respond to emergencies under the watchful eye of instructor Oliveira, who would provide feedback along the way. Reacting well in critical situations is one of the most important skill sets for working comadronas.

Skits are among the class’ favorite activities, giving them hands-on experience in the classroom before they head out in the field.

The students were excited to take class photos in their official Saving Mothers uniforms, which will give them a professional edge in the field. We’ll be posting the entire class of 2014 on the Saving Mothers website and will keep you posted when you can see all these amazing graduates!

Oliveira turned a game of darts into a quiz show for students refreshing their knowledge of common STDs and infections. Recognizing the signs and treatments for these conditions is one way our graduates will help empower women to take control of their reproductive health. 

Even Saving Mothers President Nichole Young-Lin and Medical Director Taraneh Shirazian took a whack at the game of darts.

But, most notably, the students spoke. Three students shared how much the program has meant to them over the last couple months, how much they have learned, and how prepared they feel to offer women in their community the care they deserve before, during and after pregnancy. At Saving Mothers, we say our mission is three-fold: to improve women’s health, education and empowerment. All three were apparent today, and filled us with emotion and drive to keep going and growing.

The room filled with emotion listening to the impact the class has made on students, and what they will carry with them into the future.

What started as a class has become its own community, with the women partnering together to learn, make home visits to patients in rural, undersupplied areas, and share what it’s like to be a woman living and making a difference in Santiago, Guatemala. It’s been incredible to see this group come together, explore their potential, and chart careers that will improve life for thousands of people — some of whom have yet to be born. 

As part of the Saving Mothers team observing the class, the School and the work for the very first time, I am inspired. But beyond that, I am confident in our ability to make real, vital change as one team, one new student at a time.

We are so excited about hosting a second class at the School of POWHER, but we need help to make it possible. The program only works because of the facilities, supplies and time we can invest in each student to help them succeed. 


The Saving Mothers team is gathering in Santiago Atitlan this week for the graduation of the comadronas from the School of POWHER (Providing Outreach in Women’s Health Education and Resources). The commitment of these 22 women is simply amazing, and we want to give you a sense of not only how hard they have been working, but also the tremendous impact they’ve been making in their community.

Today, Saving Mothers President Nichole Young-Lin and Media Director Camille Ricketts joined Concepcion Mendoza, our expert comadrona, and one of the program’s students, Ana, to visit five women in the rural area outside of town. With grace and aplomb, Concepcion trained Ana to take expecting mothers’ vitals, measure their weight and the fundal height of the fetus, listen to the heartbeat, and estimate the gestational age to predict a due date. After over three months of training, Ana handled most of the work herself, assuring patients and working through the steps with a radiant and comforting smile.


Ana taking a patient’s blood pressure.

Observing firsthand, it was clear that the patients were in good hands and relieved to have the information provided by the Concepcion and her trainee. As part of the visit, they received prenatal vitamins and gained peace of mind, knowing that their pregnancy would be closely followed despite their distance from the hospital and other medical resources.


We followed Concepcion (far right) and our representative from local health initiative PRODESCA (far left) to visit women living in some of the most rural areas outside of Santiago.


Along the way, Concepcion would stop to instruct POWHER student Ana in proper technique while working with patients.


Expecting mothers were happy to get a visit from Concepcion and Ana, ensuring the health and wellbeing of not only their newborns but their existing families.


Saving Mothers uniforms and supply bags give Concepcion and her students a professional identity that local communities have come to recognize.


Both Ana and Concepcion took meticulous notes during the home visits. We share their goal to keep close tabs on patients to make sure healthy pregnancies lead to healthy deliveries.

After thorough instruction and a number of home visits, the graduates will become frontline maternal health providers, ensuring healthier, safer births for the population of 45,000 in Santiago and surrounding areas. 

We’re so proud of the women who have invested the time, energy and strength in the Maternal Health School of POWHER program, and we can’t wait to see them graduate. We’ll be keeping you posted all week on their final courses, our observations here in Santiago, and the festivities around graduation. As always, we’re so grateful for your support. Without it, none of this — the home visits, the prenatal vitamins, the maternal look of awe at the first sounds of a tiny heartbeat — wouldn’t be possible. 

Muchas gracias.

You can help us make a second class at the School of POWHER possible. Donate to our campaign to teach even more students to become comadronas HERE.

Last week on my drive home, I listed to a fascinating segment on NPR about the microbiome of the placenta in healthy pregnant women. Until recently, scientists believed that the placenta was basically a sterile organ. But it turns out that this is not the case, and the makeup of the microbial environment of the placenta may actually have implications for the health of the fetus. The study NPR reported on, conducted by Dr. Kjersti Aagaard of the Baylor College of Medicine, found that the microbiome of the placenta was actually most similar to the bacteria found in the mouth, causing scientists to theorize that oral microbes may enter the mother’s bloodstream and find their way to the placenta. 
The research is all in fairly early stages but I thought it was incredible to learn a bit more about the role bacteria in the placenta may play in fetal health and development. I encourage you to check out the article for yourself here:
Happy Friday!