Native American Birthing Rituals
The Native Americans had over 500 tribes with varied values and cultural practices. In their culture, they had a belief that every individual had a certain animal spirit that kept of living in the animal when they died. Therefore, they worshipped the spirits of these animals as gods, killed the animals for food and clothing and used their bones for tools and weapons. After the animals’ death, they believed that their spirits would live on within the tribe.
As far as illness was concerned, the Native Americans had a traditional belief that illness originated from spiritual problems. Restoring the integrity of the individual’s physical and mental health was one of the major goals of the healing practice (Gill, 1983). Since the Native Americans had extensive knowledge of herbs and other botanical substances, they harvested plants and berries that they used to produce medicine, which served as the common forms of healing. Apart from the use of herbal medications, they performed rituals for they believed that some illnesses came from angry spirits. These rituals were to appease the angry spirits.
The Native Americans were known to take exceptional care of women during pregnancy. This care included encouraging them to stay out of harsh weather, exempting from routine chores at home and also providing them with special diets to support nutritional needs of the baby and the mother. However, some foods were avoided for they were believed to either cause harm or unwanted physical characteristics of the baby. Examples of foods that were avoided include raccoons because of the belief that the child would be born sick, trout that was thought to cause birthmarks on the baby’s body, and black walnuts that were believed to give the born child a big nose (Savinelli, 2012).
The couple would participate in rituals whereby they requested a medicine men to perform rituals. As part of the ritual, the couple would execute daily hand and feet washing. The rituals were performed to guarantee a safe and easy delivery when labor began. The rituals had a number of significant aspects, since they were meant to support the pregnant woman, bless her and also wish her well for her delivery time. Some tribes believed that during pregnancy women were not supposed to cross legs, wear scarfs, have sex or linger in doorways. The expectant woman would receive both the physical and emotional support from the women of the tribe who rubbed her body, fed her to keep her strong and healthy and also sang to her.
During labor, only women were in attendance, usually the mother and the grandmother, because men were never allowed to see a woman giving birth. However, in some tribes among the Native Americans such as the Hopi, women would deliver their babies in a solitary and quiet place. Birth places were different depending on the tribe the woman came from (Salamone, 2004). Some women gave birth in the village within the menses buildings or at home, some – in the forest, and some – at the river banks. The fetal descent was enhanced by encouraging the women to walk, sway or lean.
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Herbal remedies were used for pain relief and augmenting labor through intensifying the contractions. However, other tribes used non-medicinal means such as ‘scaring’ the baby out to hasten birth. Mothers adopted an upright posture during delivery: they stood, kneeled, or even squatted and babies birthed onto leaves draped below. In order to help adopt these positions, birthing devices such as ropes hung on rafters, wooden blocks for squatting or low birth stools for sitting were provided. These devices helped assume the upright position for a long time without tiring. Lithotomy position was never adopted during delivery for it was believed that the baby would not come out.
For the prevention of perineal tears, some tribes used smoke bathes created from burning of laurel leaves in a small clay vessel. Either the mother would squat over the pot, or the smoke would be blown over the perineum in order to induce relaxation. Other women would chant or hold onto the sacred items in order to cause safe delivery and also offer the mother emotional support. Musical gourds, songs and even sympathy sounds were made to help the woman cope. During birthing of the placenta, certain herbs that increased the intensity of uterine contractions were taken by the mother in order to aid the placental expulsion and reduce the blood loss.
In case of any complications during labor, such as prolonged labor, retained placenta or postpartum hemorrhage, the Native American women who were very conversant with the herbal medications for their treatment assisted labor. They used red raspberry leaves, wild yams, cotton roots and other botanic medications for the management of the complication.
During the postpartum period, some Native Americans tribes had rituals aimed at protecting the baby. In these rituals, the placenta and the cord were used, because many of the tribes cherished them as sacred (Gill, 1983). The Shoshone buried the umbilical cord for the baby to be ambitious in future, the Navajo tribe buried the placenta in order to protect the baby from evil spirits and some other tribes recommended the baby to be dipped in the river in the first two years for they believed it would keep the baby healthy. The Shoshone tribe required the mother and the newborn to live alone for a while with an aim of promoting bonding between the two. During the period after delivery, the mothers had a fresh produce diet to allow for a quick recovery from childbirth. After a short period, they resumed their daily chores.
Regarding care for the newborn, hygienic and protective measures were taken into consideration. In elimination care, dried and ground buffalo manure was used as an absorbent powder. The damp powder was replaced with dry powder if the baby passed urine. For other tribes, elimination of communication was used whereby the baby was moved to a position in order to relieve itself without soiling the beddings. For the sake of protecting the babies against harm, all women carried their children exclusively for approximately one year for effective nursing. They used cradleboards to strap the babies to their backs (Savinelli, 2012).
For communication, Native Americans leant English as a second language. Since there were many tribes, many native languages were spoken, and Navajo was the most common one. Non-verbal communication was used to express words, feelings and ideas.
The Native Americans who still use some traditional remedies should receive culturally competent care. This care should be given because their cultural view has a totally different outlook compared to today’s culture. Therefore, the Native American beliefs should be applied in modern healthcare through offering modern medicine combined with cultural competence.
It is therefore that when attending to Native American patients, their different outlook on pregnancy, labor and motherhood is not overlooked, but instead applied in the nursing career. For instance, women in labor may demand not to be attended to by a male midwife, because their traditional norms forbid men from seeing a woman giving birth. They may also require emotional and mental support during labor, which may be more beneficial than pharmacological intervention, because their tribes majorly focus on preparing the mother physically, emotionally and mentally for the whole journey of motherhood. They would, therefore, prefer their rituals and traditions to be considered. Cultural competence would in turn bring about a positive perspective to the pregnant mothers, women and the community at large.