Mohammed Kullab is only a few days old, his eyes wide open and his small fists clasped tightly, having begun life in Gaza amid the pandemonium of the Israel-Hamas war.
“Nobody should be born in such circumstances,” moaned his mother Fadwa Kullab, who has found refuge at a UN school facility in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.
Kullab has seven children now, but Mohammed’s delivery was “the most difficult experience of my life.”
She, like other moms of babies interviewed by AFP in Gaza, said her son had refused her breast milk.
“I’m not eating well,” Kullab said, stressing that she had successfully breastfed her other six children.
Breastfeeding moms are encouraged to drink at least three litres (more than six pints) of water per day and eat healthily in order to make enough milk — but getting clean water and food in Gaza is becoming increasingly difficult.
After Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on Israel, the already impoverished and long-blockaded Palestinian region was thrust into its worst-ever war.
According to Israeli officials, over 1,200 people were killed and 240 were kidnapped, including 35 children, including a 10-month-old.
The attack triggered a war in which Israel bombarded and besieged Gaza and launched a ground invasion.
According to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, over 11,200 Palestinians have been murdered, the majority of them are women and children.
Almost two-thirds of Gaza’s 36 hospitals, which were already overburdened with war-wounded patients, have been rendered inoperable due to a lack of gasoline to operate their generators.
Al-Shifa, Gaza City’s largest hospital, is currently inside a furious urban fighting zone, with its director reporting hundreds of dead buried in a mass grave within the complex.
Seven premature newborns died at the hospital’s crippled neonatal section, according to Gaza’s deputy health minister, Youssef Abu Rish.
Countless new mothers in Gaza fear the worst, including Kullab, who feels helpless and unable to defend her children.
She’s had trouble finding baby formula and nappies, she explained as she cradled her newborn kid in blankets.
Najwa Salem, 37, claimed her newborn has jaundice, which is characterized by yellowing skin and eyes. Low milk intake and dehydration can aggravate the illness, which is frequently treated with daylight exposure.
Salem would like to take her young son outside to reduce the danger of neurological impairment, but she is hesitant due to “rubbish piling up and bombing.”
The mother was concerned because the scar from her Caesarian section had become infected inside the UN school classroom Salem currently shares with roughly 70 others.
Despite giving birth at a hospital, she claims she was forced to leave after only one night “because there were too many wounded people to care for.”
Outside, the massive amount of dust created by the constant bombardment is causing breathing issues, posing severe risks to infants.
Another pregnant woman, Umm Ibrahim Alayan, complained of coughing episodes after fleeing her neighborhood as it was being bombed.
Her coughing may have triggered the early contractions, she speculated, her palms moving nervously between her rounded belly and her face.
“I’m terrified, all I want to do is hold my baby in my arms,” she said, sobbing. “I feel I could lose the baby at any moment.”
Dominic Allen, the UN Population Fund’s top officer for the Palestinian territories, said pregnant women in Gaza “have nowhere to go, there is nowhere safe.”
According to the UN, there are over 50,000 pregnant women and an average of 180 births each day in Gaza, which has a population of 2.4 million people.
“We estimate that a minimum of 15 percent of these births will have complications, which will require basic or comprehensive obstetric care,” Allen said.
According to him, the war is producing a “high-stress environment” that is likely to develop “birth complications and may lead to miscarriages.”
The UN agency described a “nightmarish” case in which a lady was discharged only three hours after giving birth.
It stated that there were blood shortages to treat postpartum hemorrhage and antiseptic shortages for sutures and treatment after umbilical cords were severed.
So far, the UN organization has successfully delivered 8,000 delivery kits to Gaza. They include umbilical cord cutters, neonatal blankets, disposable bedding, and other goods.
However, these only serve a portion of the requirement, and the Gaza health ministry reports that some women have been forced to give birth in overcrowded shelters without the assistance of a midwife.
“The nightmare in Gaza is much more than a humanitarian crisis, it’s a crisis of humanity,” said Allen.
ActionAid is one relief organization that is still functioning in northern Gaza’s brutally bombed Jabalia refugee camp, assisting women inside the Al-Awda hospital, which has been without power for days.
On Sunday, surgeons said they performed 16 C-sections without anaesthesia or other critical supplies.
“Thousands of women in Gaza are risking their lives to give birth, undergoing Caesareans and emergency operations without sterilisation, anaesthesia or painkillers,” said ActionAid’s Riham Jafari.
“These women deserve quality healthcare and the right to give birth in a safe place. Instead, they are being forced to bring their babies into the world amid utterly hellish conditions.”