Risk of childhood mortality associated with death of a mother in low-and-middle-income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Diep Thi Ngoc Nguyen, Suzanne Hughes, Sam Egger, D. Scott Lamontagne, Kate Simms, Phillip E. Castle, Karen Canfell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Death of a mother at an early age of the child may result in an increased risk of childhood mortality, especially in low-and-middle-income countries. This study aims to synthesize estimates of the association between a mother's death and the risk of childhood mortality at different age ranges from birth to 18 years in these settings. Methods: Various MEDLINE databases, EMBASE, and Global Health databases were searched for population-based cohort and case-control studies published from 1980 to 2017. Studies were included if they reported the risk of childhood mortality for children whose mother had died relative to those whose mothers were alive. Random-effects meta-analyses were used to pool effect estimates, stratified by various exposures (child's age when mother died, time since mother's death) and outcomes (child's age at risk of child death). Results: A total of 62 stratified risk estimates were extracted from 12 original studies. Childhood mortality was associated with child's age at time of death of a mother and time since a mother's death. For children whose mother died when they were ≤ 42 days, the relative risk (RR) of dying within the first 1-6 months of the child's life was 35.5(95%CI:9.7-130.5, p [het] = 0.05) compared to children whose mother did not die; by 6-12 months this risk dropped to 2.8(95%CI:0.7-10.7). For children whose mother died when they were ≤ 1 year, the subsequent RR of dying in that year was 15.9(95%CI:2.2-116.1,p [het] = 0.02), compared to children whose mother lived. For children whose mother died when they were ≤ 5 years of age, the RR of dying before aged 12 was 4.1(95%CI:3.0-5.7),p [het] = 0.83. Mortality was also elevated in specific analysis among children whose mother died when child was older than 42 days. Overall, for children whose mother died < 6 and 6+ months ago, RRs of dying before reaching adulthood (≤18 years) were 4.7(95%CI:2.6-8.7,p [het] = 0.2) and 2.1(95%CI:1.3-3.4,p [het] = 0.7), respectively, compared to children whose mother lived. Conclusions: There is evidence of an association between the death of a mother and childhood mortality in lower resource settings. These findings emphasize the critical importance of women in family outcomes and the importance of health care for women during the intrapartum and postpartum periods and throughout their child rearing years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1281
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 11 2019



  • Childhood mortality
  • Death of a mother
  • Low-and- middle-income country
  • Systematic review and meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Cite this