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Tinuke Atilade: How to Support New Mothers in Postpartum Care

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One of the beautiful parts of my Nigerian culture, after a baby is born, is the “Omugwo” practice (Yoruba people call it “Ojojo Omo”). It’s a time when a family member, typically the grandmother, takes care of a new mother and her baby and offers support in the period after childbirth. Omugwo can be done during the first 40 days of a child’s life or longer. Nigerian cultures are so blessed that each cultural practice surely holds a significant meaning but despite the many well-meaning cultural practices, I have always wondered how some of these practices impact the new mums’ mental health.

In my culture, there’s an age-old tradition of baby-bath acrobatics, the infamous baby toss during bath time. Baby boys are thrown up nine times, and girls, seven times. I learnt that this is done to remove fear from the hearts of the children. There are also deep massages to strengthen the baby’s body parts. Without the “omugwo”, I always wonder how a new mum, still recovering from the marathon of childbirth, would suddenly face this age-old tradition and other childbirth practices such as bathing the baby with palm oil and local sponge to prevent body odour, using hot lanterns, toothpaste, hot knife, and hot water presses for the umbilical cord, engine oil for circumcision, the new mum sitting on a wooden stool for 15 hours a day, palm wine for milk production. There’s also the agbo – the herbal mix that is supposed to work wonders and fix all existing and future health issues.

All of these well-intentioned practices, without help,  can end up taking a toll on a new mom’s mental health. Postpartum blues, anxiety, and even depression can set in. It’s like a rollercoaster of emotions, trying to recover and adjust to all the societal and cultural expectations. As a new mom, your hormones are in flux, your organs are shifting back to their former positions, and your breast milk is coming in. At the same time, you’re experiencing normal postpartum bleeding and dealing with the discomfort of a healing perineal area and/or a C-section scar. There’s the fatigue that comes with caring for a newborn and so much more, with both of you trying to adjust to your new lives. All new moms need during this time is a baseline of support – sleep, good food, help with baby care, and personal time, to remain as balanced as possible.

Apart from traditional practices, modern healthcare is also there.

Therefore, it is essential to create strong support networks for new mothers. Emphasising the importance of rest, nutrition, and adapting traditional practices can significantly benefit new mothers. Encouraging families to prioritise the mother’s rest and nutritional needs aids in her physical recovery and mental well-being. Customising traditional practices to fit modern contexts without losing their cultural significance can make them safer and more beneficial. For instance, modifying baby massages or finding safer alternatives to traditional remedies can maintain cultural integrity while ensuring safety. By blending the strengths of traditional practices with modern healthcare insights, a supportive environment that respects cultural heritage and promotes new mothers’ well-being can be created.

It’s Maternal Mental Health Month and a good time to think about mothers.



Feature Image by Anna Shvets for Pexels

Tinuke Atilade is a certified mental health therapist, with a B.Sc. in Biochemistry and an M.Sc. in Management in health and social care. She is the founder of mumconfessions- a platform that aims to improve access to emotional and mental health support for women on the motherhood journey. She provides professional mental health support for women through trying to conceive, pregnancy and the postpartum period. Tinuke worked full time with a Non-Profit Organisation for six years before transitioning into the mental health space. She is a wife and mum to 2 kids, and lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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