Discover the rich and inspiring postpartum traditions of Haiti, where women actively engage in self-care rituals during this crucial period. From aromatic sitz baths and herbal teas to practices like the "three baths," Haitian culture prioritises warmth, relaxation, and muscle tightening rituals for new mothers. Similar to other cultures around the world, such traditions emphasise the holistic well-being of mothers, drawing parallels with practices found in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other traditional cultures. Explore the shared wisdom across cultures, celebrating the nurturing and empowering postpartum experiences that connects communities around the globe.
Similar to other traditional cultures, new mothers in Haiti rest for 40 days after childbirth. Like Chinese confinement, it is a period of recovery and care for the mother, however the rituals and practices may differ.
During the month-long postpartum confinement in Haitian baby care, the newborn is kept wrapped to prevent getting in contact with cold drafts, and measures like applying nutmeg, castor oil, or spider web on the umbilical stump may be taken. The use of belly bands is also common, as it is believed in Haitian culture that new mothers are prone to the entry of gas into the body. To avoid this, mothers are encouraged to wear a belly band to tighten the mothers bones after child birth.
Naming the Baby
Once the baby is born, the maternal grandmother traditionally comes to care for the baby and mother.
Names are given just after the baby is born, though consideration may be given to a name prior to birth. Deciding on a name is an important event, and it is usually done by the father of the baby. It is common for children to be named after respected family elders or ancestors. Firstborn sons are usually named after their fathers. In rural areas, a child's name reflects the circumstances of his or her birth. For example, a couple who has had difficulty becoming pregnant may name the child Jesula (Jesus is here), Dieula (God is here), Dieufel (God created him), or Elifet (Elie is born), etc. as a way to show their gratitude to God. Children who survive their first years are given a nickname that everyone outside of official institutions will address them by.
The postpartum period is of utmost importance for Haitian women, akin to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices. They actively engage in self-care, emphasising dressing warmly, indulging in sitz baths with vapors, and consuming tea for rejuvenation.
During the initial three days postpartum, it is believed that the new mother should observe bed rest, avoid cool drafts, and refrain from venturing out at night. A prevalent practice during this period involves the three baths or known as "twa bain". Special leaves, including papaya, sour orange, sour soup (corossol), mint (ti baume), anise, bugleweed, and eucalyptus, are boiled in water and once cooled to desired warm temperature, the mother is advised to bathe in this water. The new mother is encouraged to drink tea brewed from these aromatic leaves, promoting relaxation and tranquilisation whilst supporting the mothers muscles to tighten after childbirth.
After a new mother has surpassed one month in her postpartum journey, a cold bath is taken to enhance healing and tighten muscles and bones loosened during delivery.
An additional aspect of postpartum care involves dietary choices. White foods, such as white lima beans, lobster, and milk, are avoided as they are considered "cold," and are believed to increase vaginal discharge and/or hemorrhage. Acceptable foods include cornmeal mush or porridge, red bean sauce, rice, beans, and plantain. This holistic approach reflects the fusion of cultural beliefs and practices in Haitian postpartum care, drawing parallels with Traditional Chinese Medicine principles.
In Haiti, the journey of breastfeeding is not just a biological process but a cultural and nutritional commitment that reflects the deep connection between mothers and their infants. With 97% of infants breastfed, the significance of this practice goes beyond tradition—it's a testament to the resilience and dedication of Haitian mothers. The cultural emphasis on 'eating well, drinking well' during breastfeeding is a poignant reflection of the nurturing spirit embedded in the Haitian way of life.
Millet and ground maize take center stage in the breastfeeding mother's diet, showcasing a blend of tradition and nutritional wisdom. The belief that the mother's food choices impact the quality of breast milk is not just a cultural norm but is rooted in the understanding that a well-nourished mother contributes to the health and vitality of her child.
While opinions may vary on certain foods, what remains unwavering is the commitment to providing the best for the infant. The use of herbal baths, influenced by the Edouard and Regisme family from Marchand Dessalines, adds another layer to this holistic approach to maternal care. It's a celebration of the body's inherent healing abilities, with special leaves contributing to both physical and emotional well-being.
Another traditional practice includes the administration of “lok”, a purgative that contains a mixture of bitter tea leaves, juice, sugar cane syrup, and oil. It is used to cleanse the newborn’s bowel of meconium by Haitian caretakers.
Avoiding cold foods
In the first three days, strict bed rest is encouraged as well as the avoidance of anything "cold," such as drafts, going outside, and certain foods. Along with "cold" foods mothers are also taught to avoid "white" foods, such as white Lima beans, lobster, and milk. "White" and "cold" foods are believed to increase vaginal discharge and/or risk for hemorrhage. Foods acceptable for the mother to eat during this period include porridge, rice, beans, and plantain. Haitians believe that women are more susceptible to gas entering the body, during this period. To prevent this, mothers are encouraged to wear a tight belt or piece of linen around the waist to tighten bones loosened during childbirth.
See Instagram post here.