‘Omugwo’ is an Igbo word that is used to describe the practice in which a nursing mother and her baby is taken care of by a close family member. In most cases it’s done by the mother or mother-in-law except in the case where they are not available then another close female family member steps in.
This practice though made popular by the Igbo speaking tribe of the country is also observed by other tribes in Nigeria but called by different names. In some cases, it’s the mother (or female relative) of the nursing mother that does the taking care of; in other tribes it’s the mother-in-law that does the honors; in some tribes the care is done in the nursing mother’s home, while in some the nursing mother and the baby go to her parents home for a period of time to be taken care of but whatever method is applied, the bottom line is that all involves the care of the mother and her baby.
In recent times, I’ve had the privilege to know a number of families who have been blessed by new born babies. I got intrigued when I found out during my visitations, that no matter the tribe or location, there was still the ‘old school’ Omugwo practice going on; whether in the modernized way of foreign baby care products or the local way with black soap and white clay.
The main reason for the practice is to help the nursing mother regain ‘ her body back’ this means regaining both her strength from being 9 months pregnant and also regaining her physical appearance especially her skin color. Most women experience darkening of their skin (chloasma) during pregnancies and this treatment done at this point would help deal with that. There is also the help with getting the bulging stomach flat again; most young mothers today seem to agree with this tradition especially for this part of losing the pregnancy tummy.
So basically apart from having to look after the baby, most of the treatment feels like your everyday spa treatment. It involves a lot of massages both the regular massages and hot water treatments. Even the babies get to be massaged too. Massaging the baby is believed to make their bodies more flexible.
A special kind of diet is usually adhered to during this period. A lot of soupy like food is given to the mothers, especially the popular one by the Igbo tribe and surrounding tribes known in English as the yam pepper soup; it’s basically yam in a spicy soup with lots of fish. The idea of feeding a nursing mother with lots of soupy meals is to help aid in the production of breast milk for the baby, also it is believed that the spicy meals help to loosen and flush out unwanted blood clots from the mother’s body that would have occurred during pregnancy. The mother is also made to rest a lot at this point. The idea is to help her regain her strength. Of course there is also tying the tummy with wrapper or in the modernized way with girdles after it has been massaged with hot water during the hot water treatment.
Most young women are afraid of this tradition because they feel it is what causes weight gain after child birth but most I have come to find out really appreciate the treatment once they’ve experienced it. I had a young woman say, she really loved the hot water treatments as it helped her with the bodily pains she felt after child birth.
It made me realize that God had blessed our ancestors with ways to solve problems even though they weren’t “educated” in the formal way we are today and most of these ways like this one is really effective but sadly it is slowly getting extinct. Though most of today mothers had experienced these ways, I wonder how many will be able to do it for their daughters/ daughter in laws in future. Some one might say ‘how are the people in other counties coping without all of these? But I think the question really is how do we preserve this? At least I heard a lot of women say they benefited from it. Who knows maybe a YouTube video would be it, Lol!