No matter where she is from, a mother's happiness will depend on her child's wellbeing. This similarity cuts through all other differences that may exist between mothers living on opposite sides of the world. It means a mother with a healthy child can empathise with another mother's pain at watching her child suffering from an illness. It means that a mother laying out a plate of food for her child each day will understand another mother's heartache at being unable to feed her child the nutritious foods he needs to grow to his full potential.
Save the Children's new State of the World's Mothers Report ranks countries by those which are the best and those which are the toughest for being a mother around the world. In doing so, it shows that, behind the universal nature of motherhood, every mother's experience is unique.
The ranking marks mothers' access to health care, their child's access to a nutritious diet and their chances of fulfilling their potential depending on where they live. It paints a picture of a pregnant mother in Norway - the best place to be a mother in the world - who can rest assured that she is almost guaranteed to have her baby's birth attended by a skilled health worker. On the other end of the spectrum, a pregnant mother in Niger will be most likely to give birth to her newborn baby alone, or without skilled assistance.
Another guarantee about mothers worldwide is that they will all recognise and have their own relationship with the practice of breastfeeding. The desire to bond, and to protect your child's wellbeing normally translates into wanting to nourish and provide for your newborn; breastfeeding is often the earliest manifestation of that desire. The benefits are deeper than emotional bonding too. Save the Children's report notes that, if practised exclusively for six months and regularly thereafter, breastfeeding could prevent one million child deaths per year. A mother's milk provides a child with the essential nutrients it needs and antibodies that can protect it against childhood diseases. It is a globally recognised practice which needs to be practiced more universally.
Sadly, many children, however, are not receiving the sustenance they need in their vital first hours of life, or even before, when in the womb. In Somalia, more than nine out of 10 mothers do not exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, often supplementing their child's diet with camel's milk, tea or water. In Malawi, meanwhile, 95% of mothers are putting their babies to the breast within an hour after birth; over two thirds are still being exclusively breastfed six months later. This no doubt plays a role in the fact that Somali mothers are bearing the pain of having the highest child mortality rate in the world with no improvement over the past 20 years. Malawi meanwhile has reduced the number of child deaths by almost 60% since 1990.
Mothers worldwide need the support of their governments to educate and promote crucial simple solutions like breastfeeding that could be preventing so much heartache. Left as it is, malnutrition is growing as a hidden crisis. Taking lives every hour of every day, malnutrition contributes to more than a third of the almost eight million children dying every year. It contributes to more than a fifth of maternal deaths too. For a mother in Somalia, without the knowledge and support to know how to help, this has meant having to watch as the number of malnourished children in their country increased more than 10 percentage points from 2000-2006.
As mothers from different corners of the world, we are lending our voice to this Tribute to Motherhood with Save the Children. It is abominable that more is not being done to prevent maternal and child deaths. We think it's time motherhood was respected, protected and improved. Unless we tackle malnutrition now, it will frustrate the progress being made to reduce child deaths. It will continue to devastate mothers; breaking hearts each and every day.
Every mother deserves a healthy outcome for her and her child in bringing a new life into the world.
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