In 1987, the World Health Organization, or WHO, took action to improve the quality of maternal health around the world through the declaration of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, or the SMI, at an international conference concerning maternal mortality in Nairobi, Kenya. Initially, the SMI aimed to reduce the prevalence of maternal mortality around the world, as over 500,000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth annually at the time of its inception, while about 98 percent of those deaths occurred in low-income countries. While WHO led the initiative, many organizations in various countries participated in additional programs in order to implement the goals of the SMI. WHO developed the SMI in order to reduce the prevalence of maternal death, developing one of the first proposals that brought attention to maternal health on a global basis at a time when global maternal mortality was high.
Leon Chesley published Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy in 1978 to outline major and common complications that occur during pregnancy and manifest in abnormally high blood pressures in pregnant women. The book was published by Appleton-Century-Crofts in New York, New York. Chesley compiled his book as a tool for practicing obstetricians and teachers. The book focuses on preeclampsia and eclampsia, but it also describes other common and rare hypertensive diseases and disorders of pregnancy and discusses their histories, diagnoses, management plans, pathologies, and immediate and remote prognoses for mothers and fetuses. Doctors used the book and all subsequent editions to help diagnose and manage complications during pregnancy and to avoid deaths for pregnant women and fetuses.
In 2014, Big Belli, a media and social networking brand, released a documentary called 40 Weeks online. The documentary, directed by Christopher Henze, followed multiple women during their pregnancies. The film predominantly features three women, though it includes the stories of many. Throughout the film, women detail their accounts of the physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy. 40 Weeks provides viewers with information about different aspects of pregnancy including the importance of nutrition and hydration, knowledge about safe medications, and the possible complications that can affect a pregnant woman and her fetus.
In 2015, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) partnered with The Open University to produce the three-part documentary series, Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You. Michael Mosley, a British television producer and journalist, hosts the documentary. Along with narrating animated scenes of a growing fetus in the womb, Mosley meets with individuals around the world who experienced mutations that can arise in the womb. Introduced over the course of the three episodes, several people share their personal stories of how their bodies did not develop correctly prior to birth. Throughout the documentary, animations of fetal development and individuals’ stories about their own birth defects transition back and forth to show how a fetus develops. Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You informed the public of what happens to the fetus at the point of conception to the point of birth at forty weeks.
In 2000, Catherine Monk, William Fifer, Michael Myers, Richard Sloan, Leslie Trien, and Alicia Hurtado published “Maternal stress responses and anxiety during pregnancy: Effects on fetal heart rate,” in which the authors conducted a study on how pregnant women’s stress and anxiety affects the health of their fetuses. Previous studies had shown that stress and anxiety during pregnancy could cause fetal abnormalities. In their article, Monk and colleagues reported that the fetuses of anxious pregnant women were more likely to have elevated heart rates and increased stress when exposed to stressors than fetuses of non-anxious women. The authors’ findings indicated that fetuses of anxious women display more biological markers of stress than fetuses of non-anxious women.
In 2004, Amanda J. Drake and Brian R. Walker published “The Intergenerational Effects of Fetal Programming: Non-genomic Mechanisms for the Inheritance of Low Birth Weight and Cardiovascular Risk,” hereafter, “The Intergenerational Effects,” in the Journal of Endocrinology. In their article, the authors assert that cardiovascular disease may develop via fetal programming, which is when a certain event occurring during a critical point of pregnancy affects the fetus long after birth. Drake and Walker were among the first to show that the programming effects of cardiovascular disease could be sustained across generations through non-genetic means. In “The Intergenerational Effects,” the authors identify how non-genetic mechanisms may perpetuate fetal programming influences over generations, highlighting the importance for further research on fetal programming.