Tradition, culture and beliefs are ingrained in the Ghanaian culture. Omugwo is one of those customs, one as crucial and traditional as the African head wrap or the use of waist beads, just to name a few. But what is omugwo? What practices does it involve and who benefits from it? Keep reading to learn all about Omugwo.
What is Omugwo?
Omugwo (pronounced umm=moo-gwoh) is simply put, postpartum care, in other words, the practice of caring for the baby and the new mother. It’s commonly associated with Nigerian people (precisely the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria).
So what does it have to do with Ghana?
Simply because even though it is widespread in many African countries, Ghana included, there is no local Ghanain word to describe what omugwo is.
Children are very important in any Ghanaian’s life, they are considered to be a gift from God – a true blessing. So important that the act of bringing a new life into this world is celebrated through a practice called the Ghanaian day naming ceremony.
The practice of Omugwo
Did you also know that in many traditional African cultures, newborns are nor allowed outdoors or around outside for weeks for fear of “evil spirits” and “evil people” doing them harm just by looking at them in a certain way? This belief could be related to the practice of Omugwo.
Like many other things in African cultures in general, the omugwo practice is replication of old African traditions where elderly women in the community join their daughters or younger women to provide post-delivery care.
Nowadays, the elderly women are usually the mother or mother-in-law who is invited to stay in the family house for a couple of weeks or even months. In many Ghanain family homes, you can even find a room which has been specially arranged for the mothers (later on also used as a guest room).
Pampering the new mother
It is believed that new mothers lack knowledge when it comes to taking care of a newborn baby. The knowledge from an elderly person who has already been through the same process is brought into the home and transmitted to the new mother.
It acts as a support-system as well, where not only it allows for the mother to recover faster and easier but also as a stress-easing mechanism. Additionally, its companionship (which may help with postpartum depression) and also a way of bonding between the elderly mother and new mother, and the elderly mother and her grandson/granddaughter.
It can also be a period of “pampering”. In some African cultures (such as the Igbo people) the nursing mother does not do anything apart from eating, breastfeeding her baby, bathing, relaxing, sleeping and receiving visitors.
The elderly women who came, do 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.
Special diet for the mother
Returning the woman’s body to her normal state is part of the omugwo practice. In some cases, a special diet (a little bit strict as well) must be followed in order to achieve that. Spicy soups predominate in this diet as a way of enhancing breast milk production and also as a way of fighting blood clots.
Among these soups we can find a yam pepper soup garnished with dry fish, pounded yam and sometimes agidi (a Nigerian speciality made from corn flour and added tomato stew).
Motherhood and shea butter
Shea butter has been used for centuries in the Ghanaian culture. It is an African ancestral beauty product that has been passed down from generation to generation, mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter.
No wonder then that shea butter is also one of the main products used on newborn babies. It will be used for mainly two purposes; for lubricating the delivery process and for giving the baby its first wipe.
When babies are born, they are covered in a substance called vernix caseosa (a white, creamy, naturally occurring biofilm covering the skin of the fetus during the last trimester of pregnancy). This is a protective film which is responsible for producing oil in the skin and has huge benefits for the babies sensitive skin.
Shea butter is added to this substance in order to boost its protection and healing of the newborn skin as it adjusts to the new world environment.
There is also a practice of bathing the newborn baby in a special way – using cold and hot water – and after the baby is covered in shea butter as a way to keep it healthy and prevent the skin from becoming “dried up”.
Benefits of Omugwo
Can this post-natal practice be perceived as a burden in your culture? Maybe as an added extra stress (because you don’t have a great relationship with your mother-in-law or even your own mother?). But if you think about it, it’s a much needed service which should be integrated in every culture around the world.
Motherhood can be very challenging and full of responsabilities, from taking care of the baby, to finding the right mothercare shops, it’s a very demanding and stressful time. Not only Omugwo is a form of companionship and support, but many anthropologists have confirmed that it helps with post natal depression.
How is postpartum care in your culture? How about the mother-daughter relation? Let us know in the comment section!
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