Born on October 7: A Gaza mother’s struggle to feed her baby

Photo of author

By journalsofus.com


  • By Stephanie Hegarty
  • population correspondent

On the morning of October 7, Amal Alabadla was pregnant and snuggled in bed with 18-month-old Noah when they were awakened by a wall of sound.

Hamas had launched its attack on Israel, firing thousands of rockets across the border. Israeli warplanes launched retaliatory strikes soon after.

In Khan Younis, Amal had no idea what was happening. She was anxious and terrified and, eight months pregnant, she began bleeding profusely. She had to go to the hospital, but her husband was working outside Gaza, in the occupied West Bank, and she was alone.

After a three-hour wait, the first taxi driver was only able to accompany her part of the way. The streets were full of people who didn’t know what to do or where to go.

All the time she was bleeding.

When Amal, an architect, arrived at the hospital, they immediately performed a cesarean section. Mohamed was born into an irrevocably changed world.

Since then, his mother has been in a daily battle to keep him and his two-year-old brother alive.

Like 90% of Gaza’s population, Amal and her family have not had a healthy, balanced diet for months. The problem is particularly acute in the north, where 90% of children and 95% of pregnant and lactating women face severe food shortages.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization said children were dying of hunger in northern Gaza after visiting hospitals there.

But even in the south finding baby formula is a struggle.

The fight for the formula

In many of the emergencies to which the UN responds, the rate of breastfeeding is high. But in Gaza, as in the UK, only around half of women breastfeed beyond six weeks.

“As soon as the conflict started we knew this was going to be a challenge,” says Anu Nayaran, Unicef’s senior adviser on child nutrition in emergencies.

“If you’re not breastfeeding your child, you’re in the middle of a conflict, you won’t be able to suddenly start feeding your baby,” she says. “You are totally dependent on baby formula.”

Image source, fake images

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Some 24,000 children are believed to have been born in Gaza during the war.

Amal managed to breastfeed Mohamed for a month, but then discovered that she was not producing enough milk.

“I was scared and nervous all the time. I wasn’t concentrating on a good meal for myself. So I didn’t have milk for him,” she says. “But I tried”.

As the war progressed, it became more difficult. Gaza’s water system is barely functioning. Most new mothers are dehydrated, which hinders their ability to produce milk.

“People receive less than two liters of water a day and that is barely enough to drink, let alone wash,” says Ms Nayaran.

Not enough baby formula is reaching Gaza. There is little left on the market. Although the UN has responded by sending it as aid, the number of trucks entering Gaza is much smaller than before the war broke out. Meanwhile, fighting and the breakdown of social order means that convoys inside Gaza have been attacked and looted.

Israel denies preventing aid from entering Gaza and blames aid agencies on the ground for not distributing what comes in. But on Friday, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said there were large stocks of food waiting to enter Gaza, “but there was no way to move it across the border into Gaza and deliver it on a large scale without the cooperation from Israel, and we implore Israel to allow more aid to Gaza now.”

Due to a lack of clean water, Unicef ​​is sending pre-mixed baby formulas to Gaza. It is safer to use but more difficult to transport in large quantities.

Three days after recovering from her C-section, Amal was displaced for the first time and forced to evacuate her mother’s home.

The fourth time they were displaced they left during the night, two hours before the place was bombed. “I couldn’t take the milk and diapers because they destroyed the whole building,” he said.

Image source, Amal Alabadla

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Noah, who is almost two years old, has epilepsy, but Amal cannot find his medication in Gaza.

Amal initially took her children to Rafah, thinking it would be safer, but returned to the Khan Younis area. He couldn’t find the things he needed in Rafah. Mohamed has a dairy allergy; the common formula makes him sick. He found a bottle of non-dairy formula, but it cost $40, ten times the pre-war price.

In mid-January, the family was living in a bush area on the outskirts of Khan Younis and Amal had only two days of baby formula left. After three months, Mohamed couldn’t eat anything else.

“I’ll dig in the mountains to get it,” he texted. “My baby needs it.” He sent his brothers to search through the rubble of the buildings but they returned empty-handed.

He decided to go to Rafah to search the shops and markets again. That trip would normally take only 20 minutes by car, but Israeli forces were now active on the route.

On the way they encountered three tanks; one fired in his direction and the shot landed near the car. The driver reversed and they escaped. Panicked and desperate to return to her children, she was unable to find any formula.

Little food, less water

The fighting in Khan Younis intensified in February and the noise of the explosions was especially difficult for Noah. He has epilepsy and the bombings make his seizures worse. He’s out of his epilepsy medication and Amal can’t find it anywhere.

The family has little food and less water. Amal has been boiling it over the fire to try to get it clean. “It’s still dirty, but I’m doing the best I can,” he said.

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The family was in a tent in the coastal area of ​​Al-Mawasi, but last weekend the area was bombed and they had to move again.

According to WHO estimates, about 24,000 children have been born since the beginning of this war. The entire population of Gaza faces critical levels of hunger, but the risk is especially acute for young children.

“Children can get sick very quickly,” says Anu Nayaran of Unicef. “They have fewer fat and muscle reserves and can quickly fall into acute malnutrition.”

Even when treated, there are long-term consequences. Malnutrition can lead to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and even obesity in old age.

A study of adults in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who were treated for severe acute malnutrition as children, found that it had a long-term effect on their cognitive development, negatively affecting educational performance and self-esteem.

Amal has given up on finding a formula for now. But Mohamed would not go hungry yet. He found a mother in the same area who breastfeeds him along with his own baby. Amal paid him with some baby clothes and some money.

They were camping on a sandy area in the coastal area of ​​al-Mawasi in tents made of boards and rubber sheets, eating canned food and bread with donated flour if they could get it, and cooking with collected wood. Al-Mawasi had been designated a “humanitarian zone” by the Israeli army at the beginning of the war.

Even that setup wouldn’t last long. Last Sunday they were displaced once again when their camp was attacked. The shop next to Amal’s was bombed and four people were killed.

“It’s a miracle we’re alive,” he texted.

Like many other Gazans, he has now turned to online crowdfunding to try to raise the thousands of dollars his family will need to pay middlemen to get on a list of people approved to leave Gaza for Egypt and its safety.

One afternoon, Amal sent the last photograph she took of her life before the war, dated the night of October 6.

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The last photo Amal took before the war broke out

Noah was lying on the soft carpet, propped up on a large cushion, watching cartoons on TV and drinking milk from his bottle. He is kicking in the air under the soft glow of the fairy lights on the living room wall.

That night he fell asleep wrapped up with his mother in a world away from the dust, dirt and brutality that mark his life now.

“I’m trying to do what’s possible,” Amal said. “I just need to rescue my children from this horrible war.”

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