Pregnancy in African Cultures

Submitted by Dr. Chinazo Echezona-Johnson, DNP, EdD, LLB, MSN, PCC, CNE, CNEcl, NPD-BC, RNC-MNN

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Pregnancy in African Cultures

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Pregnancy and birth are celebrated in every part of the world. In African cultures, because of many superstitious beliefs, many families will perform different rituals to safeguard the pregnancy. Pregnancy is acknowledged but not celebrated. It is believed that witches and evil spirits are capable of stealing the pregnancy or interfering with it. So the pregnant woman is not permitted to associate with the known witches in the neighborhood or allow strangers to rub her stomach. Furthermore, a woman is not allowed to attend some social functions, or perform some social tasks. For instance, a woman may not be permitted to go to some funerals or involve with any morbid social issues.

Unlike the Western countries, in African cultures there are no baby showers. The pregnant woman is forbidden to accept any gifts or to celebrate the pregnancy until the birth of the infant. It is believed that accepting gifts and celebrating the baby before the birth will invite the anger of the gods and the ancestors. Some African cultures believe that the gods and the ancestors will curse the pregnant mother and the unborn child with death, illness, bad luck, and evil possession.

In many African cultures, pregnancy and birth is revered because it is considered as the reproduction of future generations and the rebirth of ancestors. Africans believe in reincarnation. African culture believes in procreation. So the ancestors return to earth to through the birth of a new child. It is also seen as a way that men and women prove their masculinity. After birth, families will look for any resemblance of the ancestors in the new child. Children may be named after an ancestor. Pregnancy and birth are seen as a way that men and women prove their masculinity and femininity. Childless couples are seen as selfish. In some cases, they are ridiculed and insulted by their peers and families.

In many African countries, the status of the mother-to-be and her family usually determines the outcome and the experience of the pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time of elation and indulgence for the married women. The mother-to-be is expected to rest and eat well in anticipation and preparation for the new addition to the family.

Many African cultures believed that a pregnant woman is weak and vulnerable. So the pregnant woman will receive assistance with anything strenuous or otherwise. Africans believe that helping the pregnant woman will bring blessings. During the pregnancy, the best foods are reserved for the mother-to-be. The pregnant woman is encouraged to rest as often as possible. It is believed that a pregnant woman needs to eat for two. The woman is usually assisted with housework and day to day activities by her mother, mother in law or family members. The pregnant woman will receive special attention from the husband especially if it is a polygamous marriage.

The husband will ensure that all her wants and needs are met first before the other wives. Additionally, strangers tend to do favors for the pregnant woman.

As for the unmarried woman, pregnancy could be dreadful and unbearable. There is a revolting stigma appended to unwed pregnancies. Since, pregnancy before marriage is considered a forbidden, strangers and family members will ridicule, ostracize or even subject the unmarried woman to violence. The mother-to-be will be considered a “whore” and a “prostitute.” The pregnancy will be seen as a shameful event for the mother-to-be and her family. These out-of-wedlock pregnancies are considered shameful. These pregnancies and birth are not celebrated. Sometimes, to avoid the stigma associated with these pregnancies, the families may disown the pregnant woman. The children from out-of-wedlock pregnancies are considered “bastards.” The family may force the unmarried mother-to-be to marry the father of the fetus. She may be compelled to marry very old men or get married in a polygamous marriage. Some of these unmarried mothers will be separated from their families because they will be sent away to far-away relatives. The babies are either raised by the grandparents or other relatives. In some cases, most of the out-of-wedlock babies are sent to orphanages or are, unfortunately, left to die. Most women will illegally abort the pregnancy (abortion is illegal in some African countries). Some of these abortions end with disastrous effects such as infections and even deaths.

With the infiltration and adoption of Western cultures into many African cultures, some of these beliefs are no longer widely practiced or hold true today. Most families will support their unmarried relatives. What's more, Africans are now beginning to celebrate their pregnancies before the birth of their babies by having baby showers.