Food taboos among pregnant women

Posted by Odimegwu Onwumere | 1 February 2016 | 32,206 times

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Food taboos in the traditional Nigerian homes are a hypothesis of concern. It suggests what a pregnant woman should eat or not. Hence, many pregnant women give up on soothe-foods for those they are advised in favour or against. For example, many avoid sweetening foods to avert developing gestational diabetes. Conversely, some are advised by those they look up to in their homes, to have a little bite of whatever food they crave for in order not to increase anxiety in themselves.

This is not only a Nigerian factor. Professor Phil Baker, Director of the National Centre for Growth and Development at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said: “At the moment, the advice that we give pregnant women is quite general, and it's quite conflicting from area to area… The long-term objective has to be to get a relatively modest-cost test, in order to be able to give advice to the parts of the world where pregnancy complications are greatest.”

Eating eggs is taboo for pregnant women in the traditional homes. Some forbid eating yam. Alcohol is widely forbidden. In the Yoruba area, statement is that a pregnant woman is forbidden from eating plantain or oranges to avoid having difficulties during childbirth. Another report is that a pregnant woman must not eat straight from the pot (skillet) or else the baby will have dark buttocks; or not drink straight from a bottle or else the baby will be a drunk.

The abstinence from eating eggs by a pregnant woman in Nigeria is said will avoid making the unborn child behave like a chicken. Eating yam is said will avoid making the child too fat. Nevertheless, the traditional Nigerian pregnant woman cannot be said to be primitive with her belief of which foods to eat and not to. Such belief is however not only practiced in Nigeria.

Beliefs in other parts

It is believed in Tanzania that eating fish can result to late delivery, just as it is believed in Jerusalem that eating fish while pregnant can make elegant children. Pregnant women in Japan are advised against eating spicy food because of the philosophy that it can cause a child to be short temper. Eating egg by a pregnant woman in Mexico is believed that it can make the baby have odour. But unlike in Nigeria and Mexico, Philippines advise their pregnant women to eat raw egg before going to labour room, to help grease the birth passage.

On March19 2015, a Nicole Washington submitted to the National Geographic Society, an organisation that has been discussing food since 1888, saying, “In rural Lagos, eating rats is verboten for a woman in the family way, but in western Malaysia, rats, frogs, and other “small” spirits are fine to eat, so long as a husband or close relative does the killing (the baby’s spirit is too weak for larger grub like turtles and anteaters).”

In a documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Daniel Silas Adamson posited on March 25th 2015, saying, “For women in Korea, pregnancy tastes of seaweed soup. In South Africa, many Zulu women are given Isihlambezo, a herbal concoction that can include anything from daisies and milkweed to dried hyrax urine. In Iran, pomegranate juice is popular, and in Senegal it’s a bone-marrow broth.”

On November 26, 2012, Author Altine Mancit Ijogi, wrote that in Ghana, eating cassava is believed will make the babies complexion very light; eating a lot of overly ripe plantain whilst pregnant will cause asthma in the baby; if a pregnant woman eats a lot of palm nut soup, she will be too lazy to push during labour; she may even fall asleep.

“According to a Native American superstition, eating steelhead salmon during pregnancy can make the ankles of the baby weak. The Indonesians believe that eating octopus during pregnancy can cause difficult labour,” said a source.

“In China, women are advised to have light-coloured food during pregnancy; as such food can make the baby fair-skinned. But consumption of dark food products like soy sauce, coffee, and tea, can make the baby dark-skinned.”

Author Ijogi went further, saying, in India, pregnant women are not allowed to eat eggs, papayas and pineapples; they are believed to cause abortion. And if they crave salty food, there is a belief that then it’s a boy. But if they crave sweets, then it’s a girl.

In Guatemala, according to the source, people believe that a pungent concoction made of beer and flavoured with boiled purple onion, can induce a speedy and hassle-free childbirth

Why pregnant women adhere to nutrition

Professor Baker opined that the environment within the womb has long-term inferences not just for the pregnancy but for that baby’s long-term health, and optimising the nutrition for that baby is critically important, narrated Adamson.

“Pregnant women are uniquely vulnerable. Often, they’ve never been pregnant before, and they’re desperate to do the best thing for their child. The idea that they might do something that harms the unborn child is horrifying to them. That makes them vulnerable to marketeers, and vulnerable to scare stories,” Adamson quoted a Linda Geddes.

Whereas this belief of food taboos has for ages kept the different Nigerian homes connected, modern science dispels the aboriginal folk wisdom as belonging to the trash bin. Some studies like a freshly Danish study, it has been suggested to pregnant women to at least take up to five glasses of red wine every week. 

After all, “one of the aims of food taboos is to highlight particular happenings, making them memorable,” Washington quoted a Meyer-Rochow, in his input. “And pregnancy is so memorable that it should not be joked with.”


What a child needs is correct nutrition, experts have advised. The idea that how many times a foetus feeds or not, help in its development, has been contradicted.

“Now imagine this: Your daily calorie requirement is roughly between 1,800 to 2,000 calories. Do you really think that a tiny foetus growing inside you would need those many daily calories to grow and develop? The answer is no. What your baby needs is the correct nutrition. Unnecessarily piling up your plate with all the food that comes your way is not going to do you or your baby any good,” reported Pregnancy Nigeria, an online advisory for women.

Pregnant women are warned to refrain from using antacids, paracetamol or even acne creams. The idea is that a pregnant woman cannot self medicate at any cost. She is advised to take pills and eat foods that are prescribed by a conventional doctor.

“Self medication can have adverse affect on your pregnancy. Also, many beauty treatments can be harmful to the foetus. Using over the counter medications, self medicating or undergoing harsh beauty treatments could lead to congenital abnormalities in your baby. Many women also give their prenatal vitamins and iron medications a miss as they, at times, aggravate morning sickness,” the source reported.

She is advised to take more rest and stop playing superwoman.

“The hormonal and physical changes that happen within her body during pregnancy demand more rest. Pregnancy is a time when you need special care that is specific to you. What worked for others might not be what you need.

“Here are some things to consider: Ask yourself what kind of birth you prefer and if your doctor and the hospital have the means to support your decision. Birthing is a personal emotional experience and you wouldn’t want it to be ruined by not expressing your desires,” the source added.

•Odimegwu Onwumere is a Poet/Writer based in Rivers State. He can be reached via Tel: +2348057778358. Photo shows a group of pregnant women.

Source: News Express

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