Three-days-old Layla was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her mother, Rehab, was only days away from her due date when fierce fighting in her neighbourhood forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.
The 17-year-old from west Mosul was struggling to walk and kept on falling. Around dawn when the fighting started again, she went into labour.
“I walked with the rest of the group but I kept on falling and was very tired,” Rehab explained.
“I went into labour on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me.
“It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again,” the new young mother said.
The heart-rending story of Rehab and Layla is just one of many mothers who are facing traumatising conditions as they flee the ongoing violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
At least 400,000 people have been displaced since Iraqi security forces launched a huge offensive against the Islamic State (IS) group’s Mosul stronghold on October 17.
The ongoing conflict in Mosul has had devastating consequences for an already vulnerable population.
More than 320,000 people – 60 percent of whom are estimated to be children – are currently displaced, with thousands more fleeing every day.
The battle in Iraq’s second largest city, which has been the Islamic group’s de facto capital since 2014, is expected to take several more months.
The fighting has now reached the Old City where more than 300,000 people remain trapped and where the densely populated and narrow old streets are expected to further complicate the conflict.
Islamic State militants have repeatedly used civilians as human shields and shot and shelled people as they try to flee, amid coalition airstrikes, leaving pregnant women like Rehab not only fleeing for their lives but also forced to give birth on the run.
Despite the difficulties, Rehab still managed to give birth in very dangerous conditions. She and her family are now in the Hamam Al Alil reception centre, the main focal point for civilians fleeing Mosul.
More than 242,000 have been registered in the centre since the offensive began.
“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need,” said Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram.
“The situation inside the reception centre is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night,” Shakaram added.
Save the Children has been providing education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul with child protection teams working in reception centres to identity cases needing urgent assistance.
Twenty-day-old Lubna has been in the centre for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem was in labour for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa fled with several other members of their family.
“Her aunt and I went out and tried to find a midwife even though the fighting was still going on,” Reem’s mother Masa said.
“We tried, but we could not find anyone. We were starting to really worry, but somehow we eventually found a nurse who was able to come to the house to help. Even with this, things were very difficult. Reem was in labour for two whole days. There was no clean water, no electricity, and no medicine. She was very sick and weak after the birth.”
Masa said Reem’s delivery was “very hard, very hard indeed,” but there was nothing they could do because of the fighting.
“We wanted to leave Mosul,” she said.
“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank god Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”
Save the Children has said that most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.
Food and medical supplies in the city have been dwindling for months, with many new arrivals saying they had completely run out of food and water.
Since the offensive began, the aid agency has distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on Iraqi and US-led coalition forces “to undertake an urgent review of tactics to ensure that the impact on civilians is reduced to an absolute minimum.”
The civilian death toll is unknown, but the World Health Organisation estimates that more than 6,000 people have been hospitalised since the Mosul offensive began. At least 29 percent of those injured are estimated to be children under the age of 15.
(Names have been changed by Save the Children)