New Beginnings Doula Training

New Beginnings Doula Training
Courses for doulas and online childbirth education

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Culture Competency-Islamic Birth Custums

I just recently saw a post on science and sensibility speaking about islamic birth custums.  I thought I'd provide a few quotes I found interesting.

"The physical and emotional pain a mother endures during pregnancy, labour, delivery and postpartum is but one reason why Islam accords such an elevated status to mothers.  In this regard, the Qur’an reminds people to, “Respect the womb that bore you.” Additionally, some of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet in this regard include: that one owes to their mothers three times more love and obedience than that owed to one’s father, and that “Paradise lies at the feet (serving the needs) of one’s mother.”"

"When it comes to the actual birth, there are a few important practices that need to be kept in mind. Upon the child actually entering the world, one of the first requirements is for the father to recite the adhaan (call to prayer) in the ear of the newborn. This is so that among the first sounds the baby hears are words declaring the Oneness of God. Another practice that is highly recommended (but not required) is to mash a dried date between one’s fingers and let the baby have a taste or lick. This particular tradition hearkens back to the Prophet Muhammad who did this for his grandsons and other newborns brought to him after their birth. It is in acknowledgment of the newborn’s need for nourishment and the fact that dates have the highest natural sugar content. Lastly, if the baby is a boy, arrangements need to be made for him to be circumcised."

 "I can see two issues that childbirth educators may need to be mindful about if they have Muslim couples:
1.      Muslim couples may not wish to watch videos or see pictures of actual births. This is because certain parts of the body (private parts) are considered an individual’s private space and are not to be seen by others, be they of the same or opposite gender, the only exception to this being between spouses or for medical reasons.
2.      Muslim couples may not wish to practice some of the breathing exercises, which may require the mom-to-be to assume actual birthing positions, in front of others."

"There are actually a few Islamic guidelines on the issue of breastfeeding. Firstly, breast milk in Islam is considered the newborn’s birth right, something he/she is entitled to. And secondly, moms are allowed to nurse their baby up until the age of 2, at which point they should wean their baby."

 "My experience supporting Muslim women with a perinatal mood disorder has been somewhat (no pun intended) depressing.
To better explain what I mean, it’s important to understand how Islam views mental illness in general. If you actually look at Islamic history, you’ll see that many of Islam’s greatest scholars and physicians were among the first to view mental illness as actual medical conditions. And this was at a time when most of the world opted to view mental illness as evidence of demonic possession.
In fact, two Muslim giants made some of the greatest contributions to the field of psychiatry at the time: with Avicenna (considered the father of modern medicine) including mental illnesses in his Canon of Medicine and Rhazes being the first to open a psychiatric ward.
Muslims were also among the first to treat those with mental illness compassionately as dictated by the Qur’an, use baths, drug treatments and even use music therapy to help treat mental illness!
Now the depressing part: practically no one, no Muslim I’ve ever met, including Muslim women with perinatal mood disorders and their families that I have had to support, knows what Islam’s view on this topic is.
Not only do they not know how supportive their faith is about this topic, a good majority of Muslims tend to believe quite the opposite: that the Islamic perspective on mental illness is that it is due to a lack of faith, punishment, or my all-time favorite, demon possession!
Because of this, in my experience, a lot of Muslim women don’t want to admit to any of the symptoms of a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, thinking it means they are not committed enough to God, etc.
I have also come across families that have simply watched their loved one spiral into postpartum psychosis and done nothing believing their loved one is possessed!"

I think it's really important to take all these into account as we are looking at women's birth plans.  I find it very interesting to think about some of these customs that I would not have even thought to ask about.  I think in general a good practice to incorporate into our care, is just to ask if there are any religions or cultural observances that are important to the woman during labor, birth, and post-partum.  

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Birth is a Journey: Does it have to be life changing?

  • One woman might have to climb on an overfilled boat, risking her life and nearly dying as she escapes over the ocean to come to this land. This experience could certainly be life altering. It may very well color the rest of her life, positively or negatively. (I overcame this amazing struggle and here I am triumphant! OR Holy crap, that was SO hard I don’t know if I can go on! By the way, neither response is “right”. No one would judge the woman with the 2nd response.)
  • One woman may buy an airplane ticket, sit on a comfortable 747 and fly to America with a nice smooth flight and landing. She is happy to be in America. Those welcoming her are glad she is here safe and sound. She may only travel by plane 2-4 times in her life, so it is pretty memorable. But the journey itself probably wouldn’t be life changing; it would simply be a journey.
  • One woman may learn to fly an ultra-light plane to lead a flock of geese into America teaching them to migrate. This experience could certainly be empowering and life altering.