The Omugwo practice pronounced as (umm-moo-gwoh) simply means the post-par-tum care of a baby, especially first babies 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 the 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 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 a 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.
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 to the nursing mother to ensure the 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 fewer tasks is to enable her to 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, who is the new father and his family ensures everything that is needed during that period is supplied.
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 newborn.
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 with 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.
It has been observed that the practice has helped keep postnatal depression at bay, hence, it should be encouraged more.
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