5 Things (not) to do when having a baby
As if life as a new mom is not complicated enough, the moment you give birth to a baby, friends, family, and even total strangers, start giving advice on raising your child.
And it really does not matter if it is your first or fourth child. Everyone has an opinion on your parenting and will use every opportunity to share it with you, even if you do not want to hear it. The funny thing is that the definition of a good mother may vary from person to person and be different depending on where on earth you are raising your child.
In May, I gave birth to my fourth child and once again noticed the strong differences between the Swiss and Igbo cultures. When it comes to parenting, they seem to be the perfect opposites. The dos in Swiss culture can almost certainly be translated to the don'ts in Igbo culture.
But what are some of the differences, and how to handle such contrasting paradigms?
#1: (Don't) Eat spicy food
The first food a new Igbo mother is advised to eat is very spicy (pepperish). As soon as the baby is out of the womb, new mothers are given hot yam pepper soup with Utazi and Uziza leaves (Ji Mmiri Oku). It is believed to help the mother recover fast and "cleanse" the stomach after birth. Apparently, it helps the uterus contract as well. And to make sure you start to recover immediately, your Igbo family will bring the pepper soup to your hospital bed.
I am unaware of any special food for new mothers in Swiss culture. However, I know for sure that we are not encouraged to eat anything spicy. Maybe because we do not eat spicy food in general (black pepper is as spicy as it gets), or because we believe it might affect the taste of breast milk. Either way, as long as you are in the hospital, you have to eat whatever they serve you as it is not our custom to bring food to the patients. In my case, that was vegetable pie, salad, and yogurt.
#2: (Don't) Bathe the newborn baby
So many of my followers were shocked when they heard that my newborn baby had his first bath days after birth. In Igbo culture, a baby is bathed thoroughly right after birth.
In Switzerland, we simply use a towel to rub the baby dry. I asked my midwife why we do not bath our babies immediately, and here are her reasons:
Cost efficiency. Apparently, in the olden days, babies in Switzerland were also bathed right after birth. But in today's world, everything is about cost efficiency. So instead of "wasting" time washing the child at the hospital, we postpone bathing until the baby is at home.
Water quality: Swiss water contains a lot of calc, which dries out the skin very quickly. Therefore, one must be mindful not to bathe a child too often.
Temperature: The Swiss weather is generally colder, which is another reason our babies do not need to be bathed as often.
#3: (Don't) Get the babies ears pierced (if it is a girl)
It is normal to pierce a girlchild's ear when she is born immediately. I heard it is even done right at the hospital.
In Switzerland, you will struggle to find someone to pierce your child's ear when it is younger than a year. Usually, children only get their ears pierced once they are old enough to decide for themselves. I got mine pierced at age five and still remember how proud I was when I was done. So ear piercings in Switzerland can not be used as an indicator of gender. Many female babies do not have piercings - it is just the way we do it here.
#4: (Don't) Get your baby circumcised
I used to think that circumcision was a practice of Muslim and Jewish people only, but in Southeastern Nigeria, even Christian families circumcise their sons. The cut is usually done within the first few weeks after birth and is standard practice. It is an aesthetic process and ensures hygiene among male children.
Regarding female circumcision, I have to admit that I only recently learned that female circumcision was common in Igbo culture. I was shocked because, other than men, female circumcision (FGM) has long-lasting negative effects, causing women to have severe pain, trauma, and lack of sexual pleasure. Cutting a woman has no hygienic benefits whatsoever and is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights.
The stories of FGM victims are heartbreaking. And even though FGM has been prohibited in Nigeria under the Violence Against Persons Prohibition ACT (VAPP) since 2015, there is no question that it is still practiced in some areas. I can only hope that affected women will have the courage to speak up and advocate for their daughters not to go through the same horrific experience they have had.
In 2015 under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration that the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) Act was passed into law. This particular Act specifically mentioned FGM as a criminal act and specified stated that anybody who performs or engages another to perform FGM on any person is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 4 years or to a fine not exceeding N200,000 or to both.
We do not circumcise our babies (not the boys and not the girls). It is seen as torture, and if you want to get your son circumcised, you have to go to a special clinic as the hospitals will not do it.
Female circumcision is illegal in Switzerland, and you can face up to 10 years in prison if you get it done on your daughter.
#5: (Don't) Have your mother come for Omugwo
In Igbo culture, once a new baby is born, the grandmother (mother of the new mother) will come and stay with the new parents and take care of the baby. She will do everything from cooking and cleaning to carrying the baby and help the new mother learn all mothering skills. This way, the new mother has enough time to focus on the baby and save her strength for breastfeeding.
Here in Switzerland, there is no such thing as Omugwo. Most grandmothers are still working and therefore unable to take off from work anytime a grandchild is born. Additionally, many would see their mother or mother-in-law moving in with them as a big invasion of their personal space. We are raised to be independent and therefore tend to do things on our own. I was on my own with all my kids (yes, even Ejima). Though my mum came for a few days after birth, only Ezenwa was there to support afterward. But as he had to go to work to be able to pay the bills, I had to take care of our children by myself—no aunty, cousin, or house help to support.
These are just some examples of the dos and don'ts when having a baby. Of course, there are many more. Ezenwa and I have found a good compromise along the way because we understand each other's culture and are aware of the differences. For mixed couples planning to have children, I recommend you discuss these points in advance to avoid arguments about it when the baby is here. Because then, you will need your energy for other things!
Last but not least
I decided always to end my blog posts with an Igbo proverb or quote and a song (not necessarily Igbo) that speaks to my heart. Feel free to share your favorite proverbs or a song you are currently listening to!
Igbo quote of the week: "Ofu onye anaghị azụ nwa" - One person can not raise a child alone
My song this week: Burna Boy - Last Last
This blog is neither scientific research nor a social study; rather, it is written with much appreciation for the Igbo culture, from the subjective perspective of the author, based on personal experience. Generalizations are to be read with care, as no truth is true for everyone. And most importantly, this blog is to be read with a smile and a pinch of salt (or pepper in this context).
Hashtags #igbo #igboculture #omenana #i #nwanyiocha #omugwo