8 July 2024 - occupied Palestinian territory

Women self-inducing labour and facing life-threatening complications in pregnancy after nine months of Gaza conflict

Women self-inducing labour and facing life-threatening complications in pregnancy after nine months of Gaza conflict

GAZA, 8 July 2024 – Some women in Gaza are self-inducing labour to avoid giving birth on the move while others are scared to seek vital prenatal care because of fears of bombing and some have lost their lives due to a lack of access to doctors, Save the Children said.

An estimated 50,000 babies have been born in Gaza over nine months of conflict, with many women giving birth in traumatic, unhygienic and undignified conditions without access to basic services [1]. 

Women are facing significant challenges throughout their pregnancies, including a lack of food and clean water, frequent displacement, the traumatic loss of loved ones, and the fear of injury or death. One mother reported to Save the Children that she had not eaten meat for five months of her pregnancy and lost weight in the final months before giving birth. 

Save the Children staff have been supporting pregnant women, newborns, and families at its primary health care centre in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza since May, and have reported horrifying conditions for women giving birth and newborns struggling to survive their first precarious weeks. 

Power blackouts pose extreme risks to critically ill babies, including those in incubators.  

Dr Raghda, a doctor of obstetrics and gynaecology, working for Save the Children in April, said:

“[I was told] we had a pregnant patient, so I immediately examined her and saw she was almost full term. When she was brought into the hospital, she had a weak pulse. Two minutes before I arrived, she’d had a heart attack. We decided to do a c-section to try and save the baby and the mother. I only had gloves, an antiseptic wipe and a knife. The baby was a girl and she was about 33 weeks.

“The mother was a nurse and used to work in Al Shifa hospital. Her bowel was outside of her body and her abdomen was full of blood. She didn’t survive.”

Sharifa Khan, a midwife with Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit, said in June:

“We’ve seen the continuous stress and misery taking a toll on women, with some making drastic choices such as self-inducing labour using medication out of fear they might lose their babies if they have to flee again for survival. 

“We had one woman who was rushed to the Save the Children supported maternity unit with serious obstetric complications after self-medicating before term. The medication caused her uterus to overstretch and rupture, leading to severe bleeding and a distressed foetus. While the team was able to manage the case, had the mother been delayed by just a few minutes in reaching the maternity unit, the baby’s life could have been lost or the baby could have been born with disabilities due to prolonged lack of circulation. The woman might have lost her life too.

“We had another case of a mother who delivered her child safely and was discharged the following day. However she was back three days later when her baby was lethargic, had a high temperature, was refusing to breastfeed, and had a swollen umbilical cord that was discharging pus. This condition is only common in places with poor hygiene and a lack of clean water. It can be life threatening if untreated as the infection can spread to the bloodstream. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case.”

With the decimation of Gaza’s healthcare system and significant restrictions on the work of aid agencies, pregnant women and new mothers have not had access to the basic health and nutrition requirements as per international standards, said Save the Children. This has caused severe mental and physical harm to many of the mothers and their babies, with some taking extreme measures to try to protect their unborn children.

Rachel Cummings, Save the Children’s Team Leader in Gaza, said:

“The Gaza we see today is no place for a child to be born. We know that prolonged exposure to stress and trauma, coupled with substandard medical facilities, can lead to premature labour and death of newborns.

“It’s an immeasurable political failure that this war has ground on for nine months - the same time it has taken for a mother to survive a full-term pregnancy, or for a baby to learn to crawl. Any woman who has become pregnant during this time will have only known fear, trauma, deprivation, and displacement. Any mother who has given birth will have done so lacking the critical support all women need to deliver safely. And any baby born - who manages to survive these conditions - will only have known war.

“We call for an immediate and definitive ceasefire as the only way to save lives in Gaza and end the relentless, serious violations of children’s rights. There is no alternative.”

Save the Children has been providing essential services and support to Palestinian children since 1953, and are currently working around the clock to provide support to families in Gaza. Save the Children is operating health and nutrition programmes in Gaza, including providing maternal and newborn care, supporting the delivery of babies, training healthcare workers, screening children and adults for malnutrition, and supporting mothers with feeding infants and young children in emergencies.  However, the basic conditions to reach families need to be established by the government of Israel by lifting the siege and facilitating unimpeded humanitarian access across the Gaza Strip and for all parties to halt hostilities.


  • On 13 October 2023, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated there were 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza. Since that time, they have reported a monthly birth rate of 5,522 babies in Gaza, including most recently in May, figures which represent both babies born alive and those which may have passed away prior to birth or died due to birth complications.

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