Some African Cultural Birthing Challenges

by Deryse de Faria

I am privileged enough to do various childbirth classes in Botswana and sometimes South Africa. Classes are held monthly and I end up hosting about 25 to 30 moms-to-be (and sometimes, if I’m lucky, their partners).

Our delicate issues we face more often than not are;

  • having dads come in to ‘inspect’ my classroom and then leaving their wives with me;
  • to dads coming in and attending the first evening to see what other males are in class and whether it’s permissible for his wife to stay;
  • to dads refusing to be part of classes as it is ‘a women’s matter’;
  • to the metro dads that walk in and participate fully!

African culture is diverse across tribes and/or villages and sometimes, tribes have opposite extremes in beliefs. Some tribes require the woman to return back to her mother’s home straight after the birth of baby and neither are technically allowed to have the dad stay with them for a three month period. I see too often our class attendees wrestling emotionally with this and not knowing how to overcome it because of respect to the village/tribe elders and customs. Other situations require the mother and child to not be ‘seen’ until the 3-month period has passed – so no baby photos posted anywhere and no ‘outings’ with baby – normally her mother will come stay with her and baby during this time period.

One of my historically knowledgeable clients shared some deeper insight to this custom.  He said that many many years ago, most men worked on the mines/fields and would come home dirty/with illness and the villages would have a high infant mortality rate. So, to try keep the baby protected, the dads were not allowed near the child until it was 3 months old. He acknowledged that things have improved dramatically but that the custom still stays.

Some of the questions that I give the class to take away and discuss as a couple is linked to how the new family can be bonded/united given the cultural challenges, how they feel in this separation (anxiety/loneliness/insecurity/perceived unsupportiveness), what can they do as a couple to overcome parenting and relationship bonding in this time, and even, gently approaching the elders to review the custom in light of health advancements and allow dad involvement.

We understand the impact of the infant not having a father involved/connected in those first 3 months, it’s what we do that can bridge the gap. One key tool that helps – Kangaroo Care. This is where kangaroo care with baby and dad is crucial for the first days and the third month mark!

I would love to hear from other childbirth educators and their cultural experiences! Please send us an email at info@icea.org.