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October 2021

Trop Med Int Health. 1997 Dec; 2(12): 1175-9.

Practices and beliefs of traditional birth attendants: lessons for obstetrics in the north?

Lefèber Y, Voorhoever H.

Department of Cultural Anthropology/Faculty of Sociology, State University of Leiden, The Netherlands.

The majority of mothers in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are supported by Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) during pregnancy and childbirth. TBAs do more than just deliver babies. As part of the local community they are acquainted with the women and their families with whom they share the cultural ideas about how the birth has to be prepared for and performed. They know the local medicines and rituals which are used before, during and after delivery. The work of the TBAs is adapted and strictly bound to the social and cultural matrix to which they belong, their practices and beliefs being in accordance with the needs of the local community. Therefore they may not be able to assist women at childbirth outside their own socio-cultural environment. Comparison of the practices and beliefs of TBAs in Africa, Asia and Latin America revealed a large variation among the different cultures of the three continents. Surprisingly, in spite of the cultural differences there were clearly some common practices and beliefs which may occur in all three continents. It is assumed that these common practices are due to the expression people give to the basic events of life such as pregnancy, labour and lactation. A short review of common practices is presented as they may be of value in obstetrical practice in the northern countries.

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