In rural Mpumalanga, some women believe that the use of traditional medicine during pregnancy can shorten labour.
Conversely, many women believe pills such as pre-natal vitamins and treatment to prevent anemia will make their babies’ heads swell. Some opt for traditional medicine instead but nurses have issued a stern warning against the practice.
After Lindiwe Khumalo’s first labour lasted 26 hours, family members recommended she use traditional medicine to help shorten her labour with her second child. Khumalo said she was not sure if her husband would agree.
“I began giving my (first) daughter traditional medicine I was assured it is safe but my daughter had to be hospitalised at Mediclinic in Nelspruit for a week,” said Khumalo, who added that she approached her husband about using traditional medicine when she was about six months pregnant. “It wasn’t easy convincing him because we almost lost our first child but eventually he agreed.”
According to the US nonprofit Mayo Clinic, the average length of a woman’s first labour can be as long as 12 hours. Subsequent deliveries usually take less time.
Xolile Sgudla said she also used traditional medicine during her pregnancy at her mother’s behest.
“Because my mother is a sangoma, she started giving me traditional medicine,” Sgudla said. “Although I always take the tablets from the clinic, I usually throw the tablets in the toilet because I have been told that they would make my unborn baby’s head grow bigger than its body.”
In April, OurHealth reported on the case of week-old Lerato Ngobeni who almost died after her grandmother advised the use of traditional medicine for the young child.
When in doubt, ask a nurse
But Nurse Ntombi Zwane says women may be taking a dangerous gamble with their health and that of their babies as traditional medicines may damage a woman’s body and can even kill her baby.
“I understand that, as Africans, we trust and believe that all traditional medicine is safe but some is not,” she said. “Being a health care worker, I strongly discourage and don’t condone the use of traditional medicine while a woman is pregnant.”
Zwane advised women to be honest with health care workers about the traditional medicines they have used and when in doubt to consult a nurse or midwife.
“Regardless of our shouting, the expecting mother should be honest with us and ask questions if there are any,” she told OurHealth. “If by chance someone suggests the use of traditional medicine, there are midwives in the clinics or hospitals that you can ask whether it’s right or wrong,”
When Khumalo delivered her second baby, she lied to nurses about taking traditional medicine during her pregnancy. She said she only found out about the risks to her baby then. She also had a difficult delivery with her second child.