What’s the really big news about pregnancy and birth?

It’s rare that any birth holds so much of the world’s attention as one did this week. Media attention was so frenzied, in fact, that some of its members began to spoof each other: “Woman has baby!” said the cover of one London tabloid. Was this birth really so incredible?

Well, yes, it is. So is any birth, for that matter, from a scientific standpoint. A typical baby has 60,000 miles of blood vessels by the time of birth. How does this intricate development unfold over a course of mere months? How does a woman’s body support this human engineering marvel?

Seeing it happen with the naked eye brings home how marvelous the process really is. TEDMED 2011 speaker Alexander Tsiaras, Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of TheVisualMD.com and a journalist, artist and technologist, has compiled a timeline of conception and pregnancy from scans and computer-generated images. As Tsiaras wrote on The Huffington Post, his own son was in utero as he collected and reviewed scans of fetal development, which added a new dimension of meaning to his work.

““Even though I am a mathematician, I look at [fetal development] with marvel: How do these instruction sets not make mistakes as they build what is us?” he said of the project. See the astonishing images below he presented at TED. (Includes graphic content.)

The intricate system does break down occasionally, however, with consequences that are devastating. As the World Health Organization reports, some 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth — 99 percent of them in a developing country. Even in the U.S., one in nine babies is born pre-term, which leads to a higher risk of disability or death.

Michael Rosenblatt told the audience at TEDMED 2011 about the devastating effects of maternal mortality, which can last for generations.

There are collaborative efforts at work by governments, international development agencies and non-profits at work, however, that have made progress in reducing maternal deaths by interventions such as improving access to skilled birthing assistance, providing post-natal care for women and newborns and treating infections. Some 30 countries managed to cut their rate of maternal death in half between 1990 and 2010 — a feat also worthy of headlines.