A British team of pediatric specialists is being deployed to Afghanistan to attend to a female gunner who unexpectedly gave birth in an Afghan outpost that was the scene of a bitter battle just days ago.
The soldier reportedly didn't realize she was pregnant until she developed stomach pains two days ago. The baby was born five weeks premature.
She gave birth in Camp Bastion, a sprawling base in Helmand Province where Britain's Prince Harry is assigned as an Apache helicopter pilot.
The camp was the target of a sophisticated attack last week when three teams of insurgents dressed in U.S. Army uniforms breached the defensive perimeter and destroyed several attack jets and killed two Americans.
The camp is getting a different kind of reinforcements this week as a pediatric team from Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital is en route to Afghanistan to tend to the soldier and her premature baby.
The soldier, who has not been publicly identified, was deployed to Afghanistan in March. She is believed to be the first soldier to give birth on the frontline.
A Ministry of Defense spokesperson told ABC News that the mother was a gunner in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Both she and her baby boy are healthy and in good condition.
Pregnant servicewomen are not allowed to be deployed on operations, the Ministry of Defense told ABC News.
"Usually once we find out about a woman being pregnant, we send her back to the UK on maternity leave, but this time, the baby came too fast," the spokesman said.
Even the mother was taken by surprise, officials said, unaware that she was pregnant.
"Medically, it is possible for a woman not to notice a pregnancy, but it's very, very unusual," Dr. Jack Singer, from Harley Street Pediatric Group in London, told ABC News.
"It's with great difficulty that a pregnancy goes unnoticed," joked Singer. "I mean, most women would find amenorrhea (the lack of menstrual bleeding and growth of breasts) unusual, or notice a bump at least in the third trimester."
"All it would take is a simple urine to blood test, before the women are deployed," said Singer. "If you're wearing all that gear and carrying equipment, it's not as obvious as if you're used to wearing black cocktail dresses. These women are under huge stresses and strains, so they can ignore what's going on with their body," he added.
Around 70 women have been sent back from Afghanistan in the last decade after discovering they were pregnant, and twice that number from Iraq in the same period. The Ministry of Defense commented that these figures account for fewer than one percent of British servicewomen ever deployed on operations.
Major Charles Heyman, an author of books about the British Army and a former soldier, said: "The Army needs to make sure for the welfare of the female soldier concerned that they are not pregnant before they deploy."
Servicewomen are usually on leave for at least six months after the birth of their child, but according to according to UK law maternity leave can last up to a year.
- Family Health