Pregnancy, Birth, and Neonatal Care Practices in the Dominican Republic & Haiti
The following information was gathered from personal observations and experience and backed up by research.
1. After a woman gives birth, she bathes by sitting in hot water every morning and evening for at least a month.
2. The caregiver squeezes the breasts and nipples of newborn babies and milk actually comes out. This is said to prevent the child from having body odor when he or she reaches adolescence. The scientific explanation behind why this milk is present is that newborn babies have high levels of the mother’s hormones through contact in the womb and breastfeeding. This actually causes them to lactate for a period of time. No formal research has been done to examine the effects of leaving this situation alone as opposed to squeezing the baby’s nipples and removing milk each day when bathing. There are no visible negative side effects caused by squeezing.
3. The caregiver massages the baby’s limbs and buttocks after bathing, pulling on the most exterior parts of limbs and then pushing as if locking them into place. This is said to shape the child’s body and give it tone.
4. When the baby is one month old, the caregiver begins to bathe him or her in cold water to build up resistance.
5. If a caregiver holds the baby too much, the baby will be slower in learning to sit up, crawl, and walk. Caregivers are encouraged to leave the baby on the ground. Those who are reluctant to do this are often criticized. Bumps and falls are seen as necessary milestones in the learning process.
Both Dominicans & Haitians
6. A newborn baby less than three months old should not be outside after late afternoon. The air at this time is dangerous and will cause the baby to become sick and agitated with darker bowel movements being one symptom. If a baby must be outside during this time, cover the body and head well.
7. One of the first liquids that should be introduced to newborn babies in addition to milk is a tea. This tea can be given in a bottle.
8. A certain necklace or bracelet should be put on babies to protect them spiritually from anyone that should wish them harm.
9. When a baby has the hiccups, the caregiver should cut a very small piece of cloth, moisten it with saliva, and stick it to the baby’s forehead. This will cause the hiccups to stop.
10. When one sees and interacts with a baby in any way, one should always say, “God bless him” or “God bless her.” People who don’t say this may have negative intentions
In the Dominican Republic, c-sections are very popular. While many older women can testify to having given several vaginal births, women who give birth during current times generally have a high sense of fear toward vaginal birth and plan ahead for a c-section. Many doctors also are more comfortable with c-sections than vaginal birth and allow women to plan for unnecessary c-sections or default to a c-section after slight complications. Many women are told that they cannot give vaginal birth and report this after returning home from the hospital. The vertical cut is still common although it is known to be more likely to reopen. At public hospitals, horizontal cuts are performed unless a higher fee is paid for the lower transverse cut. Midwifery and home births basically do not exist.
In Haiti, midwifery and home births are very common, especially in rural areas. Infant mortality rate is high (7.7%) as well as mother mortality rate at birth due to the lack of advanced medical care available to the poor. While many women are comfortable with home births assisted by a midwife, this practice has a risk factor due to the lack of options should serious complications arrive. In hospitals, there is no free service for emergency c-sections. Both mother and baby are often left to die when an emergency c-section is necessary and the funds needed to pay for the service are not available.
Abortion is illegal and shunned in the Dominican Republic but there are doctors who secretly perform illegal abortions. Women also sometimes take abortive pills which abort the baby then can visit a public hospital to have remaining material cleaned out. In Haiti, both these two abortion practices are used as well. Additionally, a tea made with a plant that apparently contains an abortive chemical is given to mothers wishing to abort their unborn children. Many women die this way by drinking the wrong dosage or attempting to abort after the pregnancy is too advanced.
There is a lack of sexual education taught in schools in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
About the Author
Caitlin McHale is director and co-founder of a non-profit organization called Project Esperanza which serves the Haitian immigrant population of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Read more of her posts on her personal blog or at LaVidaIdealist.org.