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Why Maa culture prohibits sex during pregnancy

Traditional midwife is critical of men who do not conform to traditional values of the community and who demand sex from their wives before the baby is weaned

By Beverline Timanoi

Did you know that a child with mucus running down its nostrils was in the old days an indication to the father that the mother is not ready for sexual intercourse?

This was revealed to us by Margaret Meoli, a 67-year-old naretisho — or Maasai traditional birth attendant — based in Maili 46 in Kajiado West.

Meoli told Kajiado Star how Maasai women used to practise family planning methods before the onset of contraceptives. This was knowledge that was passed down from generation to generation.

“Women of our age treasured the wellbeing of their children more than satisfying their husbands sexually,” she said.

As a midwife, Meoli has facilitated about 200 births and claims she can tell whether a woman has engaged in sexual intercourse during her pregnancy.

“At delivery, a child whose mother was sexually active during pregnancy is covered by a yellowish discharge, and is considered a “dirty child” and would grow up to be weak or deformed,” she said.

Such a mother, Meoli narrates, would receive a severe beating from older women and in certain times could even be sent back to her parents’ home. This, she says, was meant to be a “lesson” to other women who may be tempted to have sex during pregnancy.

“As soon as the woman realises that she is expectant, she can only have intercourse in the first three months but as soon as the baby’s features start forming, she should desist from having sex until the baby is more than two years old,” says Meoli.

“When the child in your womb gets into contact with a man’s semen, this interferes with the formation of physical features leading to a weak child,” she adds.

She advises against sex for a woman who has newly delivered as this would affect the quality of breast milk.

“During such a time, any infection the husband carries will be transmitted to the wife and eventually towards the baby’s breast milk,” she cautions.

Meoli says that men in the olden days were greatly concerned with the wellbeing of the child and mother, and thus respected the wife’s wish for abstinence during such crucial periods.

The naretisho is critical of men who do not conform to traditional values of the community and who demand sex from their wives before the baby is weaned.

“In the past, a father took great interest in the wellbeing of their children to an extent of a wife getting a beating if a child looked neglected. They gave their wives enough time to nurture the children before getting another child,” explained Meoli.

She added that when the husband agrees to stay away from the wife for two years, such a man was rewarded with a healthy child and when the wife is ready, the husband will first carry the baby around to confirm if the baby’s weight was worth the wait.

“Our manyattas had separate beds for the wife and husband and thus abstention was easier to enforce. Women today are obsessed with the act; they love it more than their children,” she says.

Still, due to the Maasai nomadic lifestyle, fewer and stronger children meant that it was easy to move during migration periods.

However, such lengthy periods of abstinence do not go down well with the younger generation of wives, who now say their husbands do not have their welfare and that of the children at heart.

“Two years is a long time for us to stay away from our husbands; they demand the act as early as four months after delivery,” says 27-year-old Mary Kilena. “We are left with no choice but to use contraceptives.”

Nailantei Kileku, who heads the Midwifery and Reproductive Health chapter of the National Nurses Association of Kenya, concurs with idea of putting the child’s wellbeing first, but disagrees that sex during pregnancy would harm a child.

“The cervix acts as a door to the womb; once a lady is expectant it closes until delivery time. This means that nothing gets into or out of the uterus; the child is safe,” says Nailantei.

“The baby is protected by strong uterus muscles, amniotic fluid, and a mucus plug that develops around the cervix; if the pregnancy is uncomplicated, it is safe to have sex during pregnancy,” she adds.

She nonetheless urges men to be faithful during this period to avoid infecting their pregnant wives and ultimately the child.

“There are certain conditions where an expectant woman can avoid having sex, for example if the woman has had a history of cervical incompetency, heavy bleeding, and vaginal infection, and in case of a low-lying placenta,” Nailantei says.

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