Bathing Newborn Nigerian Babies

Recently, while doing my Facebook rounds, I came upon a post by an African American who had posted pictures of her newborn being stretched, hung upside down and so on by a Chiropractor. The more I looked at those pictures, the more familiar the technique appeared to me.

  • Baby held upside down by her ankles.
  • Baby’s head pressed gently in a sort of massaging motion

These were pictures and not a video so I could only glean so much from them but I could tell that the chiropractor’s actions were very similar to the moves that are made on a newborn African child during bath time. Typically, with our babies, we

  • hold them upside down
  • shake them around
  • twist their little hands (gently) behind them
  • bend their knees so that it is touching the baby’s back
  • press stomach down with a warm cloth
  • massage the babies legs and bottom, chest, stomach e.t.c…

If you are Nigerian and born in Nigeria, you definitely know what I am talking about.

While we are not necessarily told why this is done, when one reasons it out, it appears that the goal is to:

  • Strengthen the babies
  • Make them more flexible
  • Ease bowel movement

If there are any other benefits you know about, please leave them in the comment section.

So there you have it, bathing a Newborn Nigerian/African baby goes waaaay beyond administering soap and water.

I was lucky to find an unusual video of a man bathing his baby. Unusual, because typically it is an elderly woman in the baby’s life that performs this role – a grandmother, an aunt, even an elderly neighbour. And then the mother of the newborn if none of these elders are available. So it is really commendable that this man can not only do it, but that he is doing it so well.

Back to the video, if you watch, you will see that he is administering some of the traditional massages and movements on his baby. This plays out at the beginning of the video. He doesn’t hold the baby by the ankles and shake her though.

Want to see another video? Not a lot of moves here but watch between 7:45 and 8:30 as this lovely Grandma bathes her beautiful granddaughter. As a bonus, I found out that some Nigerian clans use palm oil on newborns. According to the grandma in this video, this was so that the baby doesn’t have any unpleasant smells.

You will note that they felt they had to mention that this was to make the baby stronger and that they weren’t bullying her. Let’s talk about that.

Another tradition disappearing or being reclaimed?

A few years ago, someone posted one such video and it was met with such a backlash – “you are hurting the baby!” “Child abuse!” that I think they took it down.

Now, perhaps due to Western influence, I understand that a lot of Nigerian parents no longer practice these bath routines as they are afraid that the baby will be harmed. The very same thing they most likely underwent.

What interests me is that while we get these things for free and take it for granted, the westerners that are interested (and most likely learn it from us for free) go ahead to develop it into a PRODUCT which they sell to people (including ourselves). Not surprising when you look into our history. After all, is Nigeria not the nation that is a world leader in the production of crude oil yet imports crude oil products? We export rubber and import tyres. Export wood and import toothpicks. But thanks to the current recession/economic situation, I think we are beginning to learn.

See this story in the Daily Mail where a woman (Lena Fokina) swings babies around her head in a bid to exercise them. An interesting quote is:

“According to Lena, baby yoga was first practiced by ancient African tribes – but the modern incarnation was developed by fellow Russian Dr Igor Charkovsky”

As an aside, I am pretty certain no Africans called it Baby Yoga. Also, what is a modern incarnation when it is something that is still done to this day? Doesn’t incarnation imply that it died? Just another example of how people claim our traditional practices. Modern incarnation indeed. But, I digress.

I found it interesting that she has been practicing this for 30+ years and even moves around the world to perform this job. That means that she is an expatriate of some sort, practicing a local African art. What I read here is that there exists an opportunity for our grandmas to earn Foreign currency if they properly package their craft? Well worth thinking about.

Here is a video of Dr. Igor Charkovsky and a lady (perhaps Lena?) practicing their craft. I am not certain what is going on at the very beginning. (Is the baby’s umbilical cord still attached to the placenta?) You can skip all that and start watching from the 1:30 mark.

Definitely very different from what the African tradition they “borrowed”

By the way, the chiropractor does this on a newborn to relieve the stress which the birthing process puts on a newborn. This could be another reason why our African ancestors did this.

To end, I think it is very important to look into every single tradition practice carefully before we decide we are going to discard it. It is such a shame to have these same practices pop up as PRODUCTS which we will buy when we could have had it for free. It is fairly easy to learn how to do these moves. I will look into getting it properly documented for those that simply do not have access to this information.

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