Canada has moved up a notch this year in Save the Children's 13th State of the World's Mothers report, thanks to improvements in parental leave policies.

Canada is now ranked the 19th best place in the world to be a mother, up one spot from last year's ranking.

The ranking, which compares 165 countries, looks at factors such as:

  • mother's health
  • women's education
  • women's economic status
  • child health
  • child nutrition

The report says Canada's improvement is mainly due to a recent increase in the number of women members of Parliament, and the inclusion of parental leave along with maternity leave.

The best place to be a mother is Norway, according to the report. Compared to that country, Canada needs to improve in areas of women's education and economic success, as well as parental benefits.

Norway's under-5 mortality rate is also half that of Canada's: 3 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 6 deaths per 1,000 live births here. As well, only 72 per cent of Canadian women use "modern methods" of birth control, compared to 82 per cent of Norwegian women.

Save the Children's Patricia Erb notes, though, that Canada rated only a "fair" in an analysis of how developed countries promote breastfeeding.

"Policies and programs must be put in place in all countries to ensure all mothers have the support they need to choose to breastfeed, if they want to. Acting now not only saves lives, but saves dollars as well," she said in a statement.

Norway topped the breastfeeding scorecard. Mothers there can take up to 36 weeks off work after giving birth with 100 per cent of their pay, or 46 weeks with 80 per cent pay. As well, 99 per cent of babies there are breastfed initially and 70 per cent are breastfed exclusively at 3 months.

The United States, meanwhile, ranks last on the breastfeeding scorecard. It is the only economically advanced country – and one of just a handful of countries worldwide – where employers are not required to provide any paid maternity leave after a woman gives birth. As well, only about 35 per cent of babies are being breastfed exclusively at 3 months.

The country of Niger was listed as the worst place to have children. The country is currently in the grip of a hunger crisis which threatens the lives of a million children. In fact, of the 10 countries at the bottom of Save the Children's annual index, seven are in the midst of a food crisis.

Four of those bottom 10 have seen an increase in "stunting" over the past two decades, meaning children's mental and physical growth are permanently stalled because of chronic malnutrition.

In Niger, almost half of the country's children -- 47 per cent -- are affected by stunting and that statistic has shown no improvement in the last 25 years.

Less than a third of births in Niger are attended by skilled health personnel, compared to almost 100 per cent of births in Canada. And in Canada, the risk of dying during pregnancy or birth is 1 in 5,600. In Niger, 1 woman in 16 will die from pregnancy-related causes.