Pregnancy is one of the most exciting phases of a woman's life. In India, the arrival of a baby is nothing short of a grand celebration with prolonged preparations, age-old traditions and an avalanche of opinions on how the baby needs to be taken care of. The new mother, already grappling with hormonal changes, physical transformations and sleepless nights, gets tossed between traditions and the science behind childcare practices. Though she wants the best of everything for her little one, how does she make an empowered choice with mothers, mothers-in-law, aunts and caretakers trooping in with their share of dos and don'ts?
This is where For Bumpier Times by Lakshmy Ramanathan steps in as a life-saver. Mother of a four-year-old, Ramanathan has been there, done that and knows exactly how it feels. And so, through her book, she makes an earnest effort to simplify life for first-time mothers who struggle to strike a balance between outlandish rituals and scientific norms. She spoke to mothers from Amritsar to Imphal, from Tuticorin to Jammu and compiled 101 pregnancy and childcare practices from across the country. These practices have been reviewed by a panel of eminent doctors and experts who help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly of centuries-old traditions.
The book has been written in an easy-to-understand question and answer format and chronicles queries on pregnancy practices in our country. For ease of reference, the 101 Q&As have been further divided into four main sections—The Journey Begins, Milk Wars, Mommysutra and Baby Steps. The queries have also been rated out of 5 on a 'myth-o-metre' that tells the reader how common a fear is or how prevalent a particular myth is across the country.
While most of these traditions are followed blindly, the book, interestingly, traces the origin of these beliefs and cleverly busts the myths with scientific explanation. The book does not dismiss all traditions as illogical. For example, feeding the new mum methi ladoos—a tradition popular in central, north and western India—is a welcome practice because fenugreek seeds are scientifically proven galactagogues (drugs or food that improve lactation).
As you move through the pages, you also chance upon interesting information like the Mayans binding their babies' heads between planks of wood and string to make it appear broader, or about a tribal community in Assam which has the practice of taking a newborn to the breast immediately after birth, even before cutting the umbilical cord, or the fact that in many homes in Tamil Nadu, a portion of the fallen umbilical cord is preserved in a silver pendant and tied around the neck or waist of the child to ward off evil spirits.
The book, an earnest attempt by a mother, is a must-read for expectant mothers and also mothers-in-law. After all, all that they want is the best for the little one.
Excerpts from the book
6. I just had my godh bharai and have been told not to remove the bangles till the baby is born. But I find it embarrassing and cumbersome to wear so many bangles to work.
Bengaluru, Karnataka (2/5)
Wearing bangles when one is pregnant was insisted upon for two main reasons in the past:
One, the tinkling of bangles was (and is still) considered a good way to introduce the foetus to auditory experiences. Two, the sound made by the bangles drove away scorpions or snakes lurking near toilets situated in unkempt backyards of our ancestors' homes.
Some doctors insist that wearing bangles can also double up as an early warning system for pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH). PIH can lead to an early detachment of the placenta, seizures in the mother (causing even death) and affect the growth/life of the fetus. One of its early signs is swelling (edema) of the limbs triggered by the sudden increase in blood pressure.
Doctors say that the moment the bangles feel tighter and begin to bite the skin of a pregnant woman's wrist, she should know that her limbs are beginning to swell. A visit to the doctor should be made to evaluate the situation and seek solutions if required. Swelling (especially of the feet and calves) is commonly experienced by women in the second half of the third trimester. Any swelling, however, should be shown to a doctor before being dismissed as routine.
Wearing a dozen bangles or more in each hand can prove a genuine hindrance if you are a part of any work field that requires constant use of hands and fingers. If you are not able to make your family members understand your point of view, remove them at work and slip them back on your way back home. This way, all parties (you, your baby, and the family) can benefit without unnecessary issues.
12. Is it true that lacing your drink with saffron flower will ensure that you get a fair-looking baby?
Nadia, West Bengal (5/5)
No amount of saffron flower or almond milk (or whatever else each family suggests) will change the complexion of your genetically coded foetus. A child can take after his parents, grandparents and or the extended family. If there is a varied gene pool (fair and dark looking family members) in your immediate family circle, your child's complexion could range from fair to medium to dark.
In some parts of the country, the fear of giving birth to a dark baby is so acute that expectant mothers are banned from eating anything dark. These include chocolates, coffee, and even iron tablets which typically are black or dark brown in colour. Alternately, consumption of all things white such as coconut water, tender coconut meat, cashews, eggs, milk and dairy products are encouraged.
61. Ever since we returned from the hospital, my newborn has been down with a mild but persistent cold. My help says that relief can be brought by sucking phlegm out or by sticking fingers into the baby's throat. Is it worth trying?
Madurai, Tamil Nadu (3/5)
Some of our time-tested practices have no place in the twenty-first century of today. Please avoid such crude and unhygienic practices. The mouth is a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria. Oral hygiene can be poor in different individuals. Chapped lips or a cut in the lips of the adults becomes a means for transferring any number of infection to a newborn.
Another commonly carried out practice to pull out phlegm is to stick two fingers down the throat of the baby. Such methods don't work and cause extreme discomfort to the baby. Any number of infections can also be passed on to the baby when unsanitized hands are forced inside.
67. I am mortified at the prospect of getting my child's head tonsured which is a ritual in my family. I am certain that my child will not cooperate. But the elders in my family insist that the tonsure will facilitate the growth of straight, thick and lustrous hair. I am tempted, but what is best for the child?
Ahmedabad, Gujarat (5/5)
A child's first tonsure is of much cultural significance in our society. It is seen as the first offering made by the child to the gods; sometimes it is viewed as clearing the baby off evil spirits. But a tonsure cannot improve hair thickness or quality. Not even after several rounds.
Colour, curliness, and thickness of hair are genetically predetermined and cannot be altered by any number of tonsured rounds. If your child has inherited good hair and skin genes, it will automatically show in a few years.
If you and your child are apprehensive of a tonsure round, fear not. A child's head hair will make the transition from baby hair to permanent hair naturally. Hair growth follows growth and rest cycles. During the latter period, a hair strand is loosened and eventually pushed out when a new hair shaft grows in its place.
Excerpted with permission from Hay House India.
For Bumpier Times
By Lakshmy Ramanathan
Published by Hay House
Price Rs350; pages 255