By Dr. Dina Nwanali
An average Nigerian is typically very traditional. Nearly every tribe in Nigeria has its own traditional beliefs/systems on how a newborn should be cared for from the very first day of his life,through the succeeding months up until probably his first year.
It is usually a common practice to have an older woman (either the mom of the new mom or her mother-in-law, MIL) arrive a home where a baby has just been born. Her presence is aimed at assisting the new mom in the care of her baby for a period of time as agreed by both parties. More often than not, the MIL/mom have a barrage of these traditional methods she certainly intends to carryout routinely while caring for the baby and these contradicts those the new mom must have been told by her doctor. So you find the mother of the baby torn between conflicting systems – traditional and orthodox practices of caring for her baby. Sometimes, also,this may cause a rift between both women.
Whilst it may be said that these traditional practices are done with no harm intended,it doesn’t rule out the fact that the baby is still exposed to some degree of danger. Some effects of these harmful practices may be reversed,others are completely irreversible.
Examples of these harmful practices include:
**overzealous attempts at straightening the limbs during bathing of the baby. This may lead to fractures of the baby’s bones. The attempts at doing this is totally uncalled for as the baby’s flexed limbs were due to its position while in the womb. The baby’s limbs would gradually straighten out on their own later.
**inverting the baby and holding him by both legs and shaking him vigorously! Another harmful practice. Ever heard of the Shaken baby syndrome?! A myriad of medical findings of brain swelling and concealed bleeding in the brain caused by violent shaking. In the West, this actually constitutes child abuse.
**throwing baby up in the air and catching him several times. May still lead to Shaken baby syndrome.
**instillation of breast milk into a discharging eye. Some even instill urine. This may worsen any pre-existing infection and lead to preventable causes of blindness.
**application of cow dung, heat and other concoctions to the umbilical cord. (I heard some use a particular brand of toothpaste too!). Neonatal tetanus is a very preventable infection but has over 90% fatality when contracted. The baby’s cord only requires 2-3 hourly cleaning with cotton soaked in methylated spirit.
**application of herbal mixtures/corrosive substances on the anterior fontanelle, the small depression in front of the head. I heard of an unfortunate situation where a baby’s brain was out because a corrosive substance which when applied eroded that part of his head. Please, leave the anterior fontanelle alone. That space there is normal and it closes on its own between 18-24 months of life.
**administration of drugs routinely (both herbal mixtures and orthodox drugs). When a baby is not sick, really there’s no point administering any medication. More so, drugs should be administered solely on prescription. A baby’s liver is not well developed to handle and detoxify the chemicals from drugs, whether herbal or orthodox.
These are just to mention a few .
The average newborn in Nigeria is helpless in a unique way due to ignorance and myths passed down from one generation to the next. Let’s shelve these practices and also teach others around us, to prevent regrets and untold pain in the long run.
Dr. Dina Nwanali is a trained Medical Practitioner. She is passionate about healthy living particularly in the area of nutrition and preventive medicine. When she is not tending to family or her patients, she is seeking simple solutions to tasking problems with the use of her pen. She loves God and her nuts. She can be reached on twitter @dinastanwana or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.