In Maternal and early onset neonatal bacterial sepsis: burden and strategies for prevention in sub-Saharan Africa, Seale et al find gaps in the research on maternal and newborn sepsis. I just read the summary here http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(09)70172-0/abstract. Their work seems to substantiates providing clean, antiseptic conditions for birth.
Bolstering the argument for preventing sepsis following birth, they find that:
Although existing published data suggest that sepsis causes about 10% of all maternal deaths and 26% of neonatal deaths, these are likely to be considerable underestimates because of methodological limitations. Successful intervention strategies in resource-rich settings and early studies in sub-Saharan Africa suggest that the burden of maternal and early onset neonatal bacterial sepsis could be reduced through simple interventions, including antiseptic and antibiotic treatment.