Omugwo: The Igbo practice of caring for the new mother and baby….

A mother nursing her baby

Omugwo (pronounced umm=moo-gwoh) is simply put, post-par tum care practiced by the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria. As soon as a woman gives birth to a child, her mother comes to spend some weeks to help her into motherhood. During this time the visiting mother (the baby’s grandmother) provides knowledge and support during the first 40 days of child’s life.

Usually, when a family gives birth to a child, the whole village comes alive. Women usually accompanied by the new father go from home to home with screams and songs of joy sharing bits of baby powder with community members. At that point the father has already been bathed white with the powder. That way, once you see him, you know he is a new father. The birth of a new baby irrespective of the gender brings joy and excitement in Igbo land.

How igbo women celebrate the birth of a child

Every mother looks forward to when they will practice omugwo as it is a thing of pride for them. If the woman’s mother is no longer alive, the closest relative to her mother stays with her for upwards of three to five months from the date of the birth of the child. Usually, the woman who would attend the omugwo visits her daughter with the necessary local delicacies which the nursing mother requires to return her body to normal after delivery. A special and strict kind of diet is prepared for the nursing mother to make her body return to pre-pregnancy state. Among the special menu are yam pepper soup garnished with dry fish, ofe nsala (white soup) served with pounded yam and sometimes agidi (made from pap). The soups are fixed with a blend of spices that include the West African pepper.

A plate of yam pepper soup

The idea of feeding a nursing mother with lots of sizzling spicy soups is to enhance breast milk production and also to fight blood clots in the nursing mother‘s body. Omugwo also comes with plenty of massages for the nursing mother to reduce her stomach. This comes with a lot of pain and discomfort. Sometimes palm wine is served the nursing mother to ensure proper flow of breast milk for the baby.

During the omugwo period, the nursing mother does nothing apart from eating, breastfeeding her baby, bathing, relaxing, sleeping and receiving visitors. The child’s grandmother or closest relation, who came for the omugwo, does most of the cooking and other house chores. The idea of making the nursing mother do less tasks is to enable her regain her strength and prepare her properly for motherhood. If a mother has five daughters, she will have to travel from one daughter to another, until she has served all of them. The son-in-law, that is the new father and his family ensures everything that is needed during that period is supplied.

Bathing a baby

There is however, a downside to this practice, depending on the economic prowess of the new father. Despite the joy that accompanies the arrival of the new child in the home, omugwo comes with pressure of sorts, particularly on the part of the father of the new born. Customarily in Igbo land, the mother-in-law who comes for omugwo must be given some gifts while going back to her home. Sometimes the thought of what to give the mother-in-law brings friction between couples, especially if resources are somewhat scarce. Usually, the mother- in-law goes home with items such as several pieces of wrapper, materials for sewing blouses, new shoes, head-ties and bags of rice, as well as bags of salt, cartons of soap and other gifts. These gifts will be shared to the women back at home to formally inform them of the arrival of a child in the family. Some wealthy sons-in-law even buy cars for their mothers and fathers-in-law in appreciation of the assistance rendered by their mother-in- law during the omugwo.

Gifts in the igbo traditional setting

Whether the people in the community see it or not, omugwo remains a much-needed service new mothers need as anthropologists confirms that this practise helps keep postnatal depression at bay.

What is the mother-daughter care like in your culture? Is it similar to or different from this? Please share with us in the comment section.

SHOWHIDE Comments (13)
  1. Bonjour,

    Nous ici en France il y a très peu d’entraide dans la famille !!!
    Je pratique le soutien à la parentalité ici en France et je serais intéressée pour échanger avec vous au sujet de vos pratiques et coutumes. Que ce soit durant la grossesse, l’accouchement ou même ensuite dans l’éducation des enfants.
    Seriez-vous intéressé pour effectuer un échange zoom ? Quelle langue parlez-vous ?

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