A new Save the Children report estimates that one in every three of the world's women giving birth each year do so without expert help - and thousands of mothers and their babies die as a result.
The British-based charity's report estimates that 1000 women and 2000 babies die every day from easily preventable birth complications.
If the global shortage of 350,000 midwives was met, Save the Children says, more than a million babies could be saved every year.
It urges world leaders to show the political will to improve access to midwives and healthcare globally, the BBC reports.
Save the Children, which is launching a campaign for more midwives, says women in the poorest countries are the least likely to have a skilled attendant present at delivery, are much more likely to lose their child, and are the most likely to die during childbirth.
In Britain (749,000 births a year) there are 26,825 working midwives. In Rwanda (400,000 births a year) there are only 46.
Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates, with 52 in every 1000 births ending in death.
The report says Afghan women face a one-in-11 risk of dying from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. One in five children dies before the age of five.
Afghan woman lost nine babies
The BBC reports that a 35-year-old woman called Rogul, from Kabul province, says she had eight premature deliveries and lost all the babies.
The only help she'd had was from an illiterate woman who said the bleeding would stop if she shook seven metal chains in a glass of water.
A ninth baby, which went to full term, died a day after delivery. "His legs and arms turned green and he passed away," she said.
Rogul had not been given a simple tetanus vaccine.
She has since trained as a midwife, teaching pregnant women in three villages about hygiene, diet, prompt breastfeeding after birth and other simple practices which, she says, has saved many lives.
She has gone on to have three daughters and a son of her own.