Heavily pregnant and on the run: ‘You can see the stress in her eyes’

That’s what Dutch Irina Cooman tells RTL Nieuws. She is a midwife and director of the Midwifery program at the Thomas More University of Applied Sciences in Turnhout. She felt helpless seeing the horrific images from Ukraine and she decided to act together with her Polish co-midwife Magda Stankiewicz.

They started the ‘Midwives for Midwives in Ukraine’ initiative and collected items and money to help Ukrainian refugee women. At the end of last week they left for Poland’s border with Ukraine to support local midwives and distribute collected relief supplies.

‘Suddenly you have lost everything’

“After arriving, we went almost immediately to the Central Station in Warsaw, where refugees are received and volunteers can register. We did so immediately. We saw many women, children, elderly couples. With some bags as luggage they had left behind. his homeland.”

Intense and impressive to watch, says Irina. “What really touched me is that these women probably also had a good job, a nice house and a good home life. But as soon as they cross the border, they are refugees. From one moment to the next you are everything and I stand in line.” with her son for help and food. It’s hard to imagine what that’s like.”

maternity ward

During their visit to Warsaw, Irina and Magda took a tour of the hospital’s maternity ward, where 4-6 Ukrainian women now give birth every day. “That’s about 20 percent more than the hospital is used to, so they’re very busy. It is now planned that the women can stay in the hospital for two more days after giving birth, after which they are sent to another captured place. “

She worries about it. “In the Netherlands, you still have eight days of maternity care and the mother and baby are helped and supervised. These women are moved two days after giving birth, and now we have no idea where they are going.”

While support and guidance around childbirth is very important in this situation. “We know that prolonged stress during pregnancy is harmful, but it’s also important to get enough rest after delivery. On the one hand, stress is not good for the mother’s recovery, but also for the bonding process and breastfeeding.”

Because Ukrainian men have to fight the Russians and are not allowed to leave their country, women give birth without the child’s father being around. “In the Netherlands, we always place the baby on the father’s chest after birth to ensure skin-to-skin contact. This ensures a better bond between father and child. But that is of course not possible now.”

No peace or privacy

Although attempts are made at the shelter to help mothers, conditions are far from ideal, says Irina. “There’s a place where you can breastfeed, but that’s a big space where you sit together with a lot of women. So there’s no peace and no privacy.”

Irina and Magda tried to help in the few days that they were in the shelter. “We distribute food and replenish supplies.”

umbilical cord

And with the items they had collected, the two, along with local aid workers, prepared special delivery packages that were transferred across the border to Ukraine. There they are distributed to women who are about to give birth.

“Usually 80 percent of Ukrainian women give birth in hospital, but it is very likely that they will not be able to go there. That is why we have made care packages for when they have to give birth in a non-sterile hospital.” place, like a bomb shelter.


Packages include a heating blanket, umbilical cord clamp and scissors, sterile pads, maternity pads, nursing pads, and a Twix or Mars. “The latter to ensure that the mother has extra energy during childbirth.”

The first 442 packages have been delivered to pregnant women in Ukraine, like this woman from Czarnobai, a city about 200 kilometers southeast of kyiv:

Breastfeeding in wartime

This Saturday, 200 more packages will be taken to Ukraine. Irina and Magda returned home the day before yesterday, but their mission is not over. “In the few days that we were there, we mainly saw that a lot of help and supplies are still needed.”

But they will also use their knowledge and experience as midwives. “Because for women who are in a hurry with their baby, breastfeeding is the easiest way to feed their child. Because it’s sterile and when you’re on the go, you don’t always have a microwave nearby.”

But at the same time, stress can cause breastfeeding to stop. “Together with the local organization Well Born, we are going to organize information meetings on breastfeeding in Warsaw, but also in other Polish cities where young mothers are cared for.”

Magda will fly back to Poland at the end of this week, Irina will return to the shelters the following week to help Ukrainian women.

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