This December, as always, a large percentage of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is preparing to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. As a result of my own experience with motherhood, in recent years I’ve looked at the holiday season with a fresh perspective. Specifically, I find it moving to think that, after all these years, birth remains at the heart of one of Western culture’s main celebrations.

Birth: the final moment of pregnancy and the beginning of a child’s life as a separate being outside his mother’s body. Each culture has its own beliefs about birth. Every mother has a story about her childbirth experience. Professionals from many disciplines study it—doctors, anthropologists, psychologists—and each generation discovers new ideas about how to experience it.

Over the last 20 years, our region has made great strides to reduce the infant mortality rate in the first five years of life, which has fallen from 52 to 23 children per one thousand live births. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reports that it has met the target proposed for this indicator in the Millennium Development Goals. However, we’ve made less progress in terms of maternal mortality, which decreased from 140 to 85 deaths per one hundred thousand live births. PAHO’s outlook for this goal is less optimistic. It’s one of the indicators where the largest gaps persist between rich and poor, both between countries and within them.

These figures hide a wealth of differences. From birth, some children are brought up in better conditions than others, a fact that spells significant consequences for the rest of their lives. What can we do so that all children in Latin America and the Caribbean are born into optimal conditions? How do we provide expectant mothers with safe, decent experiences that are happy ones as well? How do we support families so that they receive their new additions with affection and peace of mind?

These are some of the questions that motivate our work on a daily basis. We know we’re not alone in this. We know that each one of you, our readers, has ideas and suggestions that enrich the work done by the IDB. We thank you all for your support and look forward to continuing our dialogue in 2013 through our well-loved blog First Steps. Happy holidays!

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