Motherhood Amidst Conflict: The Impact of the Israel-Hamas War on Pregnant Women in Gaza

Motherhood Amidst Conflict: The Impact of the Israel-Hamas War on Pregnant Women in Gaza


Roza Cseby

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning that women, children, and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately affected by the escalation of hostilities in the occupied Palestinian territory due to bombardments, damaged health facilities, displacement, and collapsing infrastructure. Approximately 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza face challenges accessing essential medical care, with over 180 births occurring daily (WHO, 2023). 

Many women are forced to give birth in unsafe conditions, including shelters or amid rubble, due to closed hospitals and overwhelmed healthcare facilities. The closure of health facilities and lack of access to emergency obstetric services increase the risk of maternal deaths and pregnancy complications. Additionally, the conflict's psychological toll contributes to stress-induced miscarriages and premature births. Malnutrition among pregnant women exacerbates childhood survival and development issues, with deteriorating access to food and water heightening risks of malnutrition, disease, and death for mothers and their families (WHO, 2023).

As the conflict rages on, maternity care is often deprioritized, leading to women in labour being turned away from hospitals. The northern part of Gaza faces severe shortages of medical supplies and aid, while hospitals in the southern region struggle to meet the needs of expectant mothers. Al Emirati Maternity Hospital in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, is the sole functioning maternal health facility in the area, serving a population of around 1.3 million people. The hospital experienced a significant increase in births, handling approximately 80 deliveries daily compared to 15 before the conflict. Despite the high demand, patients are often discharged shortly after giving birth, including those who undergo caesarean sections. Medical shortages, including clean water and anaesthesia, pose additional risks to mothers and babies. The UNFPA attempts to provide birthing kits to alleviate some of these challenges, but supply shortages persist (Stancati and Ayyoub, 2024). 

The ongoing conflict and healthcare system breakdown in Gaza makes it difficult to gather comprehensive data on the impact of the prolonged war on stillbirths, maternal, and neonatal mortality rates. However, healthcare workers and the U.N. believe that these rates have likely increased significantly based on anecdotal evidence and past conflict data. The lack of prenatal and postnatal care results in preventable conditions affecting women and babies, leading to unnecessary suffering and deaths (Stancati and Ayyoub, 2024).

Personal stories

Noura Baalousha experienced contractions on a chilly December evening while seeking shelter in northern Gaza amid heavy shelling. With no phone signal to call for help and the outside too dangerous to navigate, she faced the daunting prospect of delivering her baby in the shelter. Despite feeling fearful and knowing she couldn't reach the hospital, Baalousha recalled witnessing a similar situation during a previous conflict and decided to proceed with the delivery at home. With the assistance of her sister-in-law, she successfully delivered her baby boy, Adam, using makeshift tools like wooden laundry tongs and kitchen scissors to clamp and cut the umbilical cord.

Razan Ghanem, 26, gave birth to a healthy baby at Rafah's Al Emirati Hospital in December. However, upon returning to the overcrowded U.N. school where she sought shelter, she encountered numerous challenges. The environment was filled with thick smoke from cooking fires, and sanitary conditions were poor, leading to widespread illness among residents. Her baby developed severe coughing and fever shortly after arrival. While doctors recommended hospital admission, Razan opted to treat her son at the shelter due to the crowded and unsanitary conditions at the hospital. Fortunately, her son's condition improved with treatment at the shelter (Stancati and Ayyoub, 2024).

Navin Al-Barbari, 33, had a harrowing experience of giving birth amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza City. Fearing the nonstop bombings and overwhelmed hospitals, she faced tremendous anxiety about finding a safe place to deliver her baby. Despite the chaos and overcrowding at Al-Shifa Hospital, she underwent a caesarean section to ensure a swift delivery. Returning home with her newborn, she encountered further challenges as Israeli tanks approached her neighbourhood, making relocation difficult. With scarce food supplies and high prices in Rafah, she struggled to feed her hungry baby, resorting to expensive artificial milk. Al-Barbari worries about protecting her daughter from the ongoing violence and the financial strain of providing for her. She also expresses concerns about her own physical and mental well-being, feeling the lingering effects of childbirth and enduring significant psychological distress amid the ongoing conflict (Magee and Amer, 2024). 

Noura Baalousha, Razan Ghanem and Navin Al-Barbari are among the lucky ones. Pascale Coissard, an emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders in Gaza, recounted the tragic story of a mother who lost her baby due to the overwhelmed healthcare system. Despite seeking medical attention when she felt labour pains, she couldn't be admitted to a hospital due to overcrowding. With no other options, she was forced to return to her tent, where she gave birth to her son, who tragically did not survive. This heartbreaking loss underscores the devastating impact of the ongoing conflict on innocent lives in Gaza (Magee and Amer, 2024). 

Sources and further readings:

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2023, November 3). Women and newborns bearing the brunt of the conflict in Gaza, UN agencies warn. WHO. Retrieved 6 February, 2024 from 

Stancati, M. and Ayyoub, A. (2024, February 6). Women in Gaza Give Birth in Tents and Public Bathrooms. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 February, 2024 from

Magee, Z. and Amer, R. (2024, January 26). The perils of giving birth in war-torn Gaza. ABC News. Retrieved 6 February, 2024 from

Al Jazeera English (2023, November 1). Pregnant women in Gaza reportedly being forced to undergo C-section deliveries without anaesthesia. Al Jazeera English Youtube Channel. Retrieved 6 February, 2024 from