According to a Lagos-based doctor, Gabriel Omonaiye, pregnancy superstitions are just what they are called, mere superstitions.
When the mother of a pregnant woman, Ijeoma Okoro, forbade her from eating snails because it would make her unborn baby dull or sluggish, she was shocked that her mother still believed in some unverifiable pregnancy superstitions.
Twenty-three-year-old Ijeoma is five months pregnant. She got married in April this year and lives in Festac town, Lagos with her businessman-husband. When Ijeoma decided with her husband to bring her to Lagos to care for her during her first pregnancy, she didn’t envisage that it would come with so much rules and regulations.
Her mother, Mrs. Nkolika Udemba, who came from Onitsha to stay with her keeps telling her not to allow anyone cross her legs while she’s sitting down especially if the person is ugly so that she won’t give birth to an ugly child.
Okoro told Saturday Sun that she was told not to eat snail while pregnant because it will make her baby sluggish in life or make her to spit too much saliva. Another that was considered a taboo for her in her state of pregnancy is eating of grasscutter meat. “I was warned not to eat bush meat like grasscutter as a pregnant woman because it will cause my labour to be difficult and prolonged during delivery,” Okoro said.
Superstition at a glance
According to Cambridge Dictionary, superstition is a belief that is not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, but is connected with old ideas about magic. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines superstition as a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.
It is an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition. It is also a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.
Pregnancy superstitions in Nigeria
In Nigeria, some strange beliefs are tied to a woman’s pregnant state, and in many cases, the fear in the truism of these beliefs make pregnant women adhere to some of these superstitions.
Sanmi Akomolafe is from Ogbomosho, Oyo State. She revealed that a pregnant woman should not walk in the scorching sun. This is because it’s believed that there are familiar spirits under the tree that will disguise to help her stay under the shed so they can go into her and manifest in the baby’s life.
She recalled her mother telling her while she was pregnant with her second baby that a pregnant woman should always tie a stone or a safety pin to the edge of her wrapper so that evil spirits will not be able to go near her baby. Akomolafe revealed that in the place she comes from, a pregnant woman is not supposed to go greet someone that just gave birth so she won’t have an induced labour right away. Mr. Onyekachi Kalu from Abia State said that if a man is experiencing financial difficulty when his wife is pregnant, it means that she’s pregnant with a boy.
“It is believed that the boy is already competing with his father from the womb. A pregnant woman should not also eat banana so that her unborn baby will not be a weakling”, Kalu further revealed.
Vivian Kokoma is from Cross River State. She said that the pregnancy superstitions in her place are many. According to her, a pregnant woman cannot walk around in the night and in hot afternoons or evil spirits will either possess her baby or change their sex.
“A pregnant woman must always go out with a safety pin attached to her clothes for protection against witches and spiritual attacks,” she said. Kokoma also added that a pregnant woman cannot eat unripe plantain or the baby will have sunken head. She must not tell anyone the sex of her baby or her due date or they may lie in wait to kill her on the day of delivery. She added that in her place, a pregnant woman must keep on carrying in her arms, only beautiful babies from other nursing mothers so that her baby will be beautiful.
Mr. Peter Jimoh is from Kogi State. He told Saturday Sun that, like it is with some beliefs among the Igbo, a pregnant woman shouldn’t allow people to cross her legs when she is seated. It is believed the baby she is pregnant with, might resemble the person who passed over her legs. And, may God help her if the person is ugly. According to Jimoh, it is widely believed that a pregnant woman should not walk under the afternoon sun or late at night as there are evil and strange spirits or demons walking about at those hours that could easily interfere with the destiny and makeup of the baby in the womb.
In some parts of Igbo land, it is believed that if a pregnant woman eats a grasscutter, she must gather the bones and keep them for the day of her delivery as she will need to hold them in her palms while pushing during labour so that she can have a safe and uncomplicated delivery.
Prsicilla Iyere is from Edo state. In the part of the Edo state she comes from, it is believed that a pregnant woman should not dip her hand into her husband’s pocket otherwise her baby will have deep eyes if he or she eventually gets born. Iyere said that a pregnant woman should not watch or look at a masquerade so that her baby does not end up looking like one when they arrive the world. According to Iyere, a pregnant woman should also not drink directly from the bottle or else she will give birth to a child who stammers.
Mariama Abdulsalam is from Adamawa state. She said in the tribe she comes from, it is believed that a pregnant woman should not deride physically challenged people otherwise the baby she is going to give birth will end up resembling the person she derided or mocked.
According to her, “pregnant women must not be mean to the deaf, dumb, blind people or crippled otherwise their unborn babies might be paid back with the same coin for what is considered by avenging spirits as their wickedness. It is believed that there are spirits hovering around human beings and they are out to make them pay for their sins.” Not only that, Abdulsalam said that pregnant women are told to avoid staying around people with any form of disability so that their babies won’t be disabled.
A medical doctor reacts
Nobody knows whether these superstitions work or not. Some people believe they do, others don’t share in such beliefs. For those who believe that they work, one thing is sure: none of them is able to prove it from personal experiences. Rather if you confront them, they point you to someone who knows someone who knows another person who has seen them work in the lives of other people they know somewhere.
According to a Lagos-based doctor, Gabriel Omonaiye, pregnancy superstitions are just what they are called, mere superstitions. They have no medical or scientific basis and should be ignored.
Omonaiye revealed that Okro and snails are nutritious and good for pregnant women. Not eating them, without adequate alternatives, he insists, could be counterproductive and denying women and their babies what could have been quite helpful.
He said: “Deformities from the womb, low intelligence quotient are due to genetic abnormalities, exposure to some harmful drugs such as teratogens, radiation, or advanced maternal age.”
According to Omonaiye, cerebral palsy could be due to bad obstetric practice, birth asphyxia, neonatal jaundice rather than having anything to do with mocking deformed people even though it is morally wrong.
Omonaiye stated that stuttering and stammering is believed to be due to genetic, neurological and familial factors and not as a result of pregnant women drinking from bottles.
“There has not been any established link between snail consumption and sluggishness nor grass-cutter consumption with prolonged labour.”
On the contrary, snail has been shown to be a rich source of protein, trace elements and minerals which are needed for proper growth and development in human beings, said Omonaiye.
Omonaiye noted that grass-cutter is also known to be source of rich animal protein. These foods are cheap and can serve as commonly available sources vital nutrients for a balanced diet for pregnant women, he said. Their consumption, he added, could therefore reduce maternal malnutrition if utilized fully.