Mothers in Syria's Idlib are now 'too malnourished to breastfeed children'

Mothers in Syria's Idlib are now 'too malnourished to breastfeed children'
Pregnant women are increasingly suffering malnourishment in northwest Syria, hampering the healthy development of unborn babies, as the region grapples with a devastated economy, widespread poverty, and a lack of humanitarian aid.
3 min read
22 August, 2023
Abject poverty across northwest Syria has led to rising rates of malnutrition among pregnant women, mothers and babies [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

Mothers in Idlib province in northwest Syria are now so malnourished they are unable to breastfeed their newborn babies, The New Arab's sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported.

Widespread poverty and unemployment across the opposition-held province has left many struggling mothers unable to afford formula milk.

Pregnant women also lack the essential nutrients needed for the healthy development of their unborn children, according to doctors.

Those living in IDP camps are particularly affected with a sharp rise in the cost of living, worsened by border closings and bombings by the Syrian regime and Russia.

February's devastating earthquake and Idlib's deepening isolation from the world due to the Syrian regime's attempts to control aid flows have made it more difficult to access affordable food with residents acutely vulnerable to disease and malnutrition.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in May that "malnutrition [in Syria] is on the rise, with stunting and maternal malnutrition rates reaching levels never seen before".  

Those on the ground have highlighted the devastating toll of the food crisis on mothers and children who are heavily reliant on aid to survive.

Live Story

Rabia Yasin, who is six months pregnant, and lives in the makeshift Kah camp in northern Idlib said: "I urgently need to visit the doctor - I have pains in my legs and my pelvis which are signs of a lack of vitamins and calcium - but I can't afford the doctor's fees or the price of medicines, and there is no free medical centre in Kah camp."

Rabia has not visited a gynaecologist during her pregnancy, and cannot afford to buy meat, vegetables, eggs, or yoghurt. She and her family live on a monthly aid package containing rice, bulgar wheat and vegetable oil.

Salwa Shuwayfan was unable to breastfeed her newborn baby due to malnourishment and was also unable to afford formula milk, which resulted in her child becoming emaciated and developing malnutrition.

"My husband rarely finds work, and when he does, his daily wage never exceeds 80 Turkish lira ($2.28) - not even enough to buy bread," she said.

"A small carton of medium-quality milk is more than 120 Turkish lira ($4.42), and that won't last my baby more than three days."

Live Story

Salwa was forced to crush and boil rice to feed her child, as well as mixing cornflour with sugar, leaving him malnourished. She has taken him to hospital multiple times due to subsequent health complications.

Gynecologist Noor Al-Jundi said: "The haemoglobin levels of the women who visit me are extremely low due to the lack of food and lack of healthcare, especially in the camps."

The general insecurity in Idlib, along with an ongoing water crisis and the absence of pregnancy-related healthcare in camps is also causing havoc.

"[This] threatens the health of pregnant women who really need nutritious food, and health supplements to compensate for the severe lack of food which the unborn child is absorbing, which leads to malnutrition in both mother and baby," she said.

Al-Jundi said the only way to end the worrying rise in malnutrition among mothers is more food to provide a healthy, balanced diet would need to be provided in the IDP camps, but there is no sign that such a solution is underway.


This article is based on an article which appeared in our Arabic edition by Hadia Al Mansour on 22 August 2023. To read the original article click here.