Omugwo, a practice where a mother, mother in-law or close relation goes to take care of a woman and her newly born baby and help in domestic chores, originated from Igbo culture and ultimately has become a major practice in almost all parts of Nigeria. This tradition has different names in different tribes. While the Igbo call it Omugwo, Yoruba call it Itoju-Omo and Igala people call it Iwagwola-Oma.
Omugwo is a period when the woman – following her safe delivery –enjoys the tender care and love of the mother, mother in-law or close relation who not only assists in bathing the new baby and even the mother but also helps to cook, wash and tidy the home for at least a period of two to three months for post-partum. Expectedly, during the Omugwo, the person takes over most of the house hold chores while the new mum eats, rests and sleeps.
This practice is said to favour women more than men. Some men screech over the discrimination they get from the joy of the omogwu. What is the excitement over the omugwo? The answer to the question however cannot be farfetched for it is strictly traditional and mostly for women that have just given birth.
The parent at hand takes over the running of the home, cooking, washing dishes, washing clothing of both the new baby and her mother is now the responsibility of the mother doing the omugwo.
This task, unfortunately, does not come without its pains, but most women seem not to worry about the challenges they face during this period because of the joy of the new baby and what they get in return. Funny enough, there have been many cases of rivalries over who should be in charge of the affairs during the omugwo period; some mothers want to be in total control when it is their daughters, while the mothers in-law also want to establish that their sons are heads of the homes.
In some instances, mothers or mothers-in-law leave the omugwo shortly after going for it, following disagreements over their welfare. So one is left to wonder what informs the commitment to omugwo while some women complain about their mother’s lack of commitment to them during the omugwo. Yet, some others say their mothers-in-law only come around to be ‘nursed’ rather than come to nurse them and the new baby.
Of course, Igbo people attach great importance to omugwo to the extent that a home without a female child feels that this practice has eluded them. And in most cases, women who do not have female children get jealous of other women who have girls especially when these girls have grown into age of marriage.
Mrs. Ifeoma Damian explained to Friday Magazine her pain and joy of having female children. “When I gave birth to my five daughters, the joy of motherhood was questioned and my pillow became my consoler. Though my husband is an understanding man, but his family and friends were always confusing him to take a second wife that will give him male children since I could not give him one. Being a God fearing man, he never gave in to the advice. On women’s part, I became the object of mockery that I hardly I attended village meetings and other gatherings.”
Mrs. Damian hinted that though God later remembered her with two sons, she has come to realise the joy of baby girls in the family when her three daughters got married.
“The joy of motherhood returned to me when my daughters started marrying and today my three girls have married and those who mocked me over girl child are now coming to welcome me home anytime I return from omugwo.”
Mrs. Njideka Isaiah shares the same fate with Mrs. Damian except that she has seven girls and no male child.
Mrs. Isaiah said her husband abandoned her and married another woman who bore male children for him aside matrimonial home, only to come back when my daughters have grown and started marrying.
“My husband and I were looking for male child but when I delivered the seventh girl my husband left me for another woman that had male children for him. It was difficult to cope seeing my children through both secondary and university education, but thank God that what was almost impossible for me was double and today two are married while the other two are in their final year in the university. I visit my daughters’ home regularly especially during omugo and my returning home used to be great as my in-laws are wonderful people; they used to give me parting gifts big enough for me.”
Mr. Joseph Ezeokoli, an Anambra state- born revealed that he has daughters who are married and his wife has been visiting them before their due time for childbirth and few months postpartum just to take care of the new born and the mother. He also added that the wife usually returns from omugwo fully loaded with food stuff, wrappers and money while his own portion remains one or two bottles of hot drinks.
But according to him, it is a thing of joy and the best thing that can happen to any man; the hot drinks simply show sign of respect to the man as the head of the family. He also notified that women deserve the better treat of the omugwo because they are people who can take care of the new born and mother. They can carry the baby when the new mother is sleeping, they can cook omugwo food such as ‘ Nsala soup(white soup) and Ji Mmiri Oku (hot yam pottage spiced with uziza, and uda seed), bathe the baby and the mother, wash baby cloths, and other domestic works that men can hardly do.
“My wife always returns from omugwo of our daughters well taken care of by our in-laws but only gives me bottle of wines, which I am still very happy because it is not easy to take care of omugwo people (new born and the mother) and I as a man cannot handle any domestic work, so omugwo is better reserved for women”.
Some new mothers who do not have the luxury of their mothers being with them at omugwo period struggle on their own with the help of their husbands who may have to endure the burden of doing domestic work for the short period till the woman regains her strength.
In fact, to some husbands, the period of omugwu is a period of excessive spending and when a time for the mother in-law to go back, many of them do not find it easy to package them back home.
Apart from the fuss of gender discrimination in omugwo practice, there is always a case between the woman’s mother and husband’s mother (mother in-law) as to who will first go for the omugwo.
Traditionally, the woman’s’ mother is allowed to visit her daughter first and perform her side of omugwo but when she leaves, the husband’s mother can then come and do her own.
There have been cases of mother in-laws having problem with each other over who will go or not. It is really a bitter experience because omugwo should be the period both families should use to resolve unsettled squabbles for the joy of the new baby.
It is ideal that both mothers come for omugwo at different times separate so that the husband can easily cater for them and have the financial strength to settle them, but when the two mothers come at once, the husband may not find it easy to cope when preparing to send or ‘package’ them back to their own homes.

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