How Cultural Practices Affect Pregnancy And Childbirth Among Nigerian Women
Nigeria is a multi-cultural,multi-ethnic country, and her people are fiercely protective of their culture and tradition. This is even in spite of Western influence of recent years. Nigerians take pride in their unity in diversity. This also made evident in the fact that some cultural practices are the same, across most ethnic groups. One of such areas is cultural practices as they relate to pregnancy and childbirth. Regardless, of the region, the belief and practice is almost always the same. There are several social and cultural influences on pregnancy, and we will attempt to examine some of them below.
Some Cultural Practices That Affect Pregnancy
Traditional Birthing Mothers
Before the advent of medical healthcare and antenatal appointments, women relied on traditional birthing mothers to birth their children. The practice has significantly reduced in many urban cities. But in suburbs and rural areas, many women still trust the traditional midwives for a safer birthing experience. In the South-West and Yoruba speaking communities, they are "Iya Abiye" meaning Mother of Birth And Life. The women trust Iya Abiye because she has decades of experience under her belt. She is also said to possess mystical powers which she employs in the event of complications during the birthing process.
Traditional birthing mothers are also a lot cheaper than hospital deliveries. The risk is that the birthing expert has no information on the medical history of the pregnant woman. So whatever she does, she only does out of experience, which is not fail-proof. This cultural practice affects childbirth mortality rates in Nigeria.
This is another cultural practice that cuts across virtually all ethnic groups in Nigeria. During pregnancy, cultural experts admonish the woman to avoid a list of fruits like pineapples and lemon, pawpaw and avocado. She must stay away from cold water, lemonade, milk, hot chocolate drinks and fizzy drinks. Unfortunately, some of these taboo foods and fruits are great for her health and her baby's development. The result is children born with low birth weight and a less than robust immune system.
The Anathema Called Caesarean
Culturally in Nigeria, it is a taboo to go under the knife for the birth of a child. Women who have surgical deliveries are not-so-subtly scorned because they will never experience the "real birth". The real truth however, is that Caesarean Section has saved many women with complications in pregnancy, delivering to them a baby which might otherwise have died. Sadly, cultural ignorance has robbed and is still robbing many mothers of the lives of their children.
Nigerians are extremely religious, very superstitious and tremendously spiritual. As a result, women are more likely to listen to their pastor/imam/herbalist than listen to or trust their doctors. Just recently, there was a trending story on Twitter, about a certain woman in the hospital to have her baby.
A prior ultrasound revealed the baby to be too big to push through her pelvis. The doctors advised a C-Section, but the lady's pastor, whom she had invited to pray for her, kicked against it. The pastor insisted that she would deliver like the Hebrew women of Biblical fame so surgery was needless. Against the doctors' recommendations, the lady chose to listen to her life. The woman lost her life to hemorrhaging after delivery. There are several stories with the same outcome.
There are also traditional rituals and herbal baths and drinks that pregnant women take. This happens at the beginning of the third trimester. They are believed to fortify the woman against complications in pregnancy, and giving her supernatural strength to deliver a healthy baby. Sometimes, these rituals are rites that a family practices, whether they are educated, well traveled or not. Failure to carry out the ritual spells doom for the pregnant woman. This practice also influences pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria.
Gradual and persistent strategies combining education - about healthcare practices during pregnancy; policy changes, and ways to combine religious and modern medical practices, could provide the potential for change. Addressing delicate issues like the taboo of pregnancy and the social stigma against men taking a more active role in the household is difficult. Initiating grassroots projects that teach men and women about pregnancy may be a way forward. Increased education and land ownership among women has been shown to empower them and give them autonomy over their spending. However, without simultaneously dealing with the deep-rooted norms that are adversely affecting perinatal health, it is likely that cultural societies will continue to turn a blind eye to women’s health.