The Nigerian New Born: Birthing, And Bathing!

sleeping newborn black baby lying on bed
Photo by William Fortunato on

A New Life In Nigeria: The first year of marriage is so crucial for the life and happiness of the couples together, a trying moment of living with a different family to establish a good relationship of ways of being together as one big family, that will continue for the rest of their married life together; just like the weather the first year of marriage in Nigeria differs from culture to culture. What works for a Muslim couples may not work for the Christian couples, just as tribes differs from North to the South, East to West, so does family traditions and cultures of the new couples. The females are from birth socialized to serve and be subordinate to males, leading most often than not to break-ups in marriages, on the grounds of the birth of only or mostly the “female” children especially the first born of a new couple who is mostly expected to be a male child in Nigeria. Traditionally, most Nigeria cultural groups are into the extended family lifestyles which is made of series of the nuclear families; and the custom in some part of northern Nigeria is giving a child of three years of age to six years of age to a new couple, this is done to help keep the new wife company and to help her with domestic duties. BUT, once it is obvious that a couple married for two to three years without a child, the families of either the groom or bride will give the childless couple a child to foster with the belief that the child will help speed up the “blessing of the womb” for them to have their own biological children. The husband plays an important role during the most amazing life changing experience of having a baby, even though he cannot help his wife carry a pregnancy but he can provide moral and medical support; such as making sure she is adequately registered for antenatal, providing a help to assist the pregnant wife, helping her dress up to undress, doing domestic chores, running errands and to make sure general household essential is provided for her needs. It is the responsibility of a good wife to show understanding, give love, encourage her spouse, avoid unnecessary nagging and complaints due to her pregnancy; all these the wife must make sure she gives to her husband for peace in the home and for a healthy, and happy delivery of their baby. 

The Childbirths: Nigeria is a high risk place to give birth, with high maternal mortality rate during childbirth every year, and the new born dying within twenty eight days of birth. Nigeria ranks fourth globally in maternal mortality rate making it worst in the North-Eastern parts of Nigeria, having Borno state the underdeveloped region, with its many peculiar problems suffering significantly higher maternal and infant death toll than the whole country put together which is largely due to harmful traditional practices. The insecurities has dangerous affected the lives of everyone dwelling in the region with health facilities destroyed, doctors and care-givers fleeing the region, having only a few obstetrician gynecologists remaining in the north-east region of Borno State. Thereby leaving helpless expectant mothers to solely depend and be at the mercy of the elderly female midwife “ungozoma” who is unskilled and uneducated; facing a life-threatening risks during delivery at home with no access to the kind of care that can save lives, making complications in delivery worse if not fatal. A close look at the Northeastern Nigeria camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP); with the never ending insecurity and kidnapping ravaging the north-east of Nigeria, it is a common sight all over the make-shifts clinics to see 14-16 year olds giving birth to their fourth or fifth child where anything can go wrong when it comes to labor and delivery, especially in a region with high rates of child marriages, malnutrition and malaria. Where such clinics have no drugs, no emergency supplies, no electricity, no running water, and hospitals are miles away with no financial ability to go to the hospitals, making the chances of death in childbirth extremely high; heartbreaking also for a mother to experience the tragic misfortunes of losing her child or her life or both while giving birth to a new life.

The Homebirth In Nigeria: The corona virus pandemic has turn many breadwinners to a sit-at-home making their wives and extended families taking over as breadwinners, husbands can no longer make ends meet loosing their bearing in the midst of the Nigerian economic somersaults, insecurity, kidnapping, and scarcity of essential commodities. A high number of births take place in the home, such Home Deliveries in Northern Nigeria are making the Traditional Birth Attendant’s, friends and relatives played the strongest immediate postpartum roles; thereby retaining mostly the unsafe umbilical cord care practices which are so deadly but still persists. These uneducated traditional birth attendants use razor blades and dirty tools to cut the umbilical cords unknowingly giving the new born blood poisoning or tetanus with the use of ash, charcoal, baby powder, dust, dirty hot compress, cow dung and chicken droppings to treat the baby’s umbilical cord, oftentimes ruptures the uterus by pulling out the placenta instead of waiting for it to come out naturally. Increasing the risk of rising “eclampsia” which is a life threatening spike in blood pressure that also puts both mother and child in danger; with inadequate proper care, it is unlikely that either the mother or child would survive such delivery. A lot of couples still engage in such practices of home birth which at times is due to illiteracy, poverty, cultural practices and a shortage of primary healthcare services forcing more women in Nigeria to seek the help of untrained traditional birth attendants called the “ungozoma” despite the risks and life threatening infections, with complications leading to death. Other reasons given is that men in the north prefer their wives to give birth at home due to culture and religion, not wanting “other men” health workers to see their wives nakedness; so arrangement for an elderly female birth attendant to deliver babies at home are made. These elderly women serve as local birth attendant to pregnant women and most of them practice from home with no formal training; the expectant mothers are given local herbs to drink with claims that it will aid her birth and helps her body to heal quickly, and despite all the dangers involved in traditional home births most women take the risk because they are affordable and the services of the “ungozoma” are paid in foodstuffs and token gifts. 

The Naming Ceremony: A newborn naming ceremony is an important event in the life of every family during which the baby’s immediate and extended family gather to name the new-born. In Nigeria baby’s naming ceremony is either a cultural affair or a religious rite, but Nigerians are deep into traditions and cultural practices in all their celebrations; Nigerians celebrate naming ceremonies elaborately especially the traditional ones when the newborn turns out to be a baby “boy” the most prefer child of a family in Nigeria. A unique cultural practice in Northern Nigeria observed in most tribes, is that a mother MUST withholds expressions of love for her first child by not calling him or her by name, which is most common for the first child of a new couple. Also, forbidden is calling the first born by his name because of the “respected elder” the child is named after which makes the child a namesake of the parents of either the groom or bride. Instead the child is called baba meaning father if named after the father; same applies to the females “Ummi” or “Mama”, and if named after the grandparent he is then automatically called “kaka” the grandfather commonly known as “Abba” or “Baba” meaning father, to show respect for the person he was named after.

The Bathing Of Nursing Mother And Her Baby is “wankan jego” meaning the bathing: In the northern Nigeria, the new mother goes back to her parent’s home to be taken care of by her mom, or a female family member will visits every day to care for her, because it is important for the new mothers to find time to regain their health and strength, by taking care of their bodies and baby. Important also is for them to get adequate rest, and assistance handling the newborn from family and friends. Immediately a woman puts to birth a culture of collecting firewood for the boiling water takes place which will be used for her daily bath and her new born baby, it is a customary practice for a mother-to-be or a new mother to sleep in an overheated room and must take bath in very hot water known as “wankan jego” to keep out the cold. An elderly woman given such a duty uses a bundle of leafy twigs of the Neem Trees; dips it in very hot water and splash it over the new mother which is so painful and at times she screams out of pain, such baths often causes severe scalds, and even if she is lucky to give birth in the hospital she must still undergo the “wankan jego” after she is discharge. Birthing the new born is quite different from the nursing mother, here the new baby is thoroughly scrub all over to remove all afterbirth that might cling to his or her skin believing that if that is not properly done, the new born will have smelly body odour, after which the elderly woman will pick and raise up the new born by the feet, head facing down then shakes him or her until a scream is heard. It is necessary to look deep into this cultural ritual to find other effective ways of avoiding burns during such bathing; all hot water must first be tested by dipping hands in it for safety before using the bath water. An the end of the forty days of “wankan jego” the elder woman is rewarded with food items, clothing materials, wax wrappers, snacks, kola nuts, cosmetics and cash money as a thank you gifts.

The Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri call it “Sunan Jego” which is the naming of a new born: A Child naming in Islam is SUNNAH and it is a MUST which is known as SUNAN JEGO (Naming the newborn) for the Muslims in the North of Nigeria mostly the newborn is named on the 7th day of birth. On the 3rd day after delivery a food called kauri is prepared and distributed to families and friends to announce the birth of the child and the eve which is on the 6th day sweets are distributed as an invitation for the naming the following day which is normally the 7th day after delivery. The Muslims name their babies in the mosques immediately after the “Fajr” early morning prayers; the name of the newborn is then announced to all by the Islamic scholar; the child is given a name after the parents of the father; depending on the gender of the child but subsequently, after the first two kids; the 3rd and 4th babies are given names after the parents of the mothers known as “Tokara”. The baby’s hair is shaved and weighed and the cash equivalent of its weight is given as charity to the needy, gifts such as kola nuts, sweets, biscuits, and cash are shared amongst those in attendance; invited guests will then proceed to the house to eat or at times the food is taken to the mosques. A ram is slaughtered for the baby boy or a sheep for the baby girl; the meat is then used to prepare a variety of dishes for guests to celebrate the child naming. The northerners derived their children names from the religion of Islam; at times babies are named after events or situations surrounding the birth of a child or the days of the week; Sunday is Danladi or Ladidi in Hausa; Tuesday is Dantala and so on. But, most often names are given to the newborn with a strong and important significance such as naming a child after an elder or well-respected family member like the parents or grandparents, dead or alive as a way to immortalize them especially the first born of the couple. The Kanuri Parents often foster newborns, by naming a child after a “great” man i.e. God Father or God Mother so that the child may become a protégé of this person later in life and be taken into his household known as “Tada Njima” meaning “sons of the house” and the head of the household is called “Abba Njima” meaning “father of the house” which derived its importance from “tokara” meaning namesake.

The YORUBA Naming Ceremony: A cultural practice mostly in the southern and western parts of Nigeria; is that after a mother gives birth to her first child, her mother-in-law comes to the home; or hosts them in their own family home to take care of the new mother and her child,  the care for the nursing mother after delivery is called by the Yorubas “Itoju Omo” meaning the care of the baby (newborn) and the mother. The Yoruba names are unique and they carry powerful meanings, which is believed will impact on the destiny of the child and family. Parents in Yoruba land carefully select the names their children will carry all their lives; deciding a child name incudes events at the time of the child’s birth, circumstances surrounding the birth, the kind of destiny parents wish for the child and the family’s heritage such as royal family. Yoruba names carry prefixes and suffixes examples are Ade or Oye meaning “crown”; Abimbola is “born into wealth”, Adebisi is “we have added to the crown”, Odunayo is “year of joy”, Oyinlola “honey is wealth”, the name Jimoh is “one who is born on a Friday”, Obafemi means “the king loves me”. On the day of naming the newborn is brought in by the couples; prayers and songs of praise to welcome the new family member after every prayer the guests will answer “Ase” meaning “Amen”, for the Muslims, the task is performed by an “Alfa” an Islamic scholar and a pastor for the Christians. Some symbolic items are provided for the traditional naming; such items include water, kola-nuts, palm-oil, sugar, and honey is believed to blessed the lifetime of the newborn with bliss and sweetness. The mother of the baby will either taste each of the items on behalf of her child or the items are significantly rub on the baby’s lips. Then the child is named, money is donated into a bowl as gifts for the newborn baby. The “Owambe” celebrations go on all day and night.

The IGBOS Naming Ceremony is known as “ikuputanwa or igu nwa’aha”: The postnatal practices differs from community to community and the Igbos call it “Omugwo” meaning postpartum care when the mother, close female relative, or the mother-in-law of the nursing mother move in to care for the new mom and baby. The nursing mother is not allowed to do any chores, she is bathed and her tummy is then given a massage with warm water and other traditional antiseptics to make her heal fast and get back in shape, to also avoid infections for both the mother and child. She is served spicy soup and gruel to help with breast milk for nursing the baby, this takes place for forty (40) days after which the nursing mother and the new baby go back to her home strong and healthy to take care and charge of her child. Traditionally the woman who took care of mother and child is gifted with assorted materials such as George, laces, hollandaise wax, cash headgears, shoes, cosmetics, and alcoholic drinks. The Child dedication and naming the child in the southern and western parts of Nigeria for the Christians takes place in the churches or at the households of the grandparents mostly to thank god for the life of the newborn, thanksgiving prayers and dedications are said for a prosperous and long life for the newborn. The naming ceremony in Igbo land is the formal presentation of the newborn to his kinsmen, families, friends and well-wishers dwelling in the community. After announcing the birth of a child to the community the female family and friends in the neighborhood will all assemble to visits the family they dance and sing joyfully to the home of the family of the newborn and as a mark of welcoming the baby these women then rub “NZU” a white powder on their necks to signify goodwill, peace, happiness and purity of heart which the white of the powder symbolized, then the arrangement of the naming starts in earnest which is a big cultural event on the 7th to the 12th day after the birth of the child. The Igbo people an ethnic group of the south-central and south eastern Nigeria bear names that are rich in meaning with unique stories behind the names; An Igbo name culturally and religiously bears an important message and meaning with names beginning with “Chi” meaning God, Chidinma means “God is good”, Chidiebere meaning “God is merciful”, Adamma means “beautiful daughter”, Adaeze means “Daughter of a king” with Adaobi meaning “First daughter”. The paternal grandparents officiates the naming ceremony; which begins with the usual breaking of the Kola nuts and prayers, libation of pouring wine on the ground to the ancestral gods, then the father of the newborn will give a name to the child after which a tree is planted as a symbol of life and survival for the child. Gifts are then presented to the newborn family and celebration picks up.

The North-Eastern part of Nigeria is at the moment facing the most tragic phase both financially, socially, politically and religiously; Home birth is a serious problem in Borno state, where Vesico Vaginal Fistula “VVF” becomes a tragic health situation, that occurs after a prolonged obstructed labor, with the “Gishiri Cut” a traditional incisions which are mostly practiced by unskilled female birth attendants. It is vital to increase the number of hospital birth and to discourage home births by getting women out of their homes and into the nearby clinics where complications can be prevented and if it happens, professionally handle. Public enlightenment and appropriate ante-natal care and delivery would greatly reduce the incidence of VVF, and the need to train appropriate health personnel and establishment of more centers where VVF can be repaired successfully; prevention is the ultimate goal if this disability and dehumanizing condition is to be eliminated, this could be achieved through education of parents and the girl child on best practices during childbirth which is absolutely necessary to discourage most of the deadly harmful traditional practices. Provision of available, accessible and affordable quality obstetric care in every part of Northern Nigeria to prevent prolonged obstructed labor which is the major cause of VVF will help also. Investments in health care and training of the “ungozoma” for medical services availability at the grassroots is necessary; it is absolutely vital that the Traditional Birth Attendants most especially the “ungozoma” are retrained by offering them on-the-job training in hospitals, refocused to bridged the gaps between communities and the primary health centers in order to increase expectant mothers accessibility to skilled birth attendants by helping to persuade expectant mothers to attain clinics. It is in the best interest of the region to incorporate “the retrained and refocused ungozoma” into IDP camps clinics and emergency health outlets scattered all over the North-East.

In Nigeria facts reveals that northern parts of the country, childbearing among adolescent girls is higher than girls in the southern parts, young mothers in the north face low educational attainment, the women in every home bear the brunt of caregiving, household chores, experience marital instability, divorce with poor life chances and living a life of poverty for the rest of their lives. Advocacy such as “Save Girl Child” will go a long way in checkmating such gender parity; Saving the girl child begins with providing free education for her, because education bestows on her a great disposition for a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, values, attitudes, competence and skills. Gender inequality and maternal mortality have negative impacts on inclusive growth in Northern Nigeria, girls and women must be properly taken care of during pregnancy to reduce or completely eradicate maternal mortality; voices that matters must say no to gender inequality and no to all obstacles that held women down. The north is culturally and religiously attuned where men only feel happy and comfortable with female health workers when it comes to house-to-house hygiene and vaccine interventions, medical outreach and issues of maternal health. It is important to involve female caregivers in vaccine uptakes, hygiene and health surveillance because female caregivers are better position to have full access to households, in gathering historical data, improve the health status of mothers and children, thereby breaking the barriers and discouraging deadly cultural practices in the home which will greatly help to promote gender equality for sustainable development in Nigeria!