Contrast and Comparison – Pregnancy and Birth in the United States and the Philippines

Motherhood, a single word, but one that holds such meaning and is revered by cultures around the world. From pregnancy to birth, this stage of life inspires and holds the promise for the next generation. Though the process of pregnancy and birth are biologically similar, no matter which country you are from, the cultural views and traditions vary greatly especially in the United States and the Philippines.

In the United States having a baby is a private affair to be celebrated and shared among the immediate family. There are beliefs and superstitions that have changed over time, but many still persist, especially those of gender predictions. In the United States the phases of pregnancy and birth are regarded as a highly medical process where each stage is monitored by doctors and the last stop is the hospital maternity ward.

Traditional culture in the Philippines puts a very high value on the family, especially motherhood. The birth of a baby is not just a private affair for the couple or family; it is a culturally significant event to be celebrated by the entire community. In the Philippines, pregnancy, birth and the time period after is surrounded by a wide variety of beliefs, traditional practices and rituals.

The United States has a variety of pregnancy myths, superstitions and gender prediction methods that may or may not have any scientific merit. A few of the more popular beliefs are that if you’re carrying higher in the belly, you’re having a boy and eating spicy food can start early labor. However, “carrying the baby lower in the abdomen isn’t a sign that it’s a boy, or a girl, or anything other than an indication your abdominal muscles have loosened up a bit”.

One of the old wives’ tales that does have some scientific merit, is the idea that having a lot of heartburn during pregnancy means that you will have a hairy baby. Johns Hopkins University conducted a study where they followed a group of women throughout their pregnancy and noted when they had heartburn, how many of these resulted in babies with a lot of hair.

23 out of 28 women who complained of moderate to severe heartburn, did in fact have babies with average or above average hair. Though this seemed to validate the myth, the truth resided in the fact that the same hormone that contributed to hair growth in the baby also relaxed the stomach muscles, allowing heartburn to increase).

According to Filipino (term used to refer to people who are native to the Philippines) beliefs, how a pregnant woman acts, the things that happen to her and even what she thinks can all have a major impact on her developing baby. Pregnant Filipino women have superstitions and taboos that dictate their behavior until they give birth.

For example, a pregnant woman should not wear anything around her neck or the baby’s umbilical cord could strangle it and she should also avoid looking at anything ugly or marred, because this could cause the baby to be born disfigured.

Twentieth-century developments have led to the almost complete departure of the use of midwife practice in the United States, thus taking birth away from the control of the woman and her family support system, and placing it in the hands of the medical field and the hospitals.

Most births went from being a normal part of life in the home to becoming hospital-based procedures. “In 1900, almost all United States births occurred outside a hospital; however, the proportion of out-of-hospital births fell to 44% by 1940 and to 1% by 1969, where it remained through the 1980s” (MacDorman, 2014) and as of 2012 has only increased to 1.36 percent.

The Philippines have also had an increase in hospital based births, though not as high as the United States. As of 2015, fifty-seven percent of births were conducted by doctors and only thirty-five percent were traditional births conducted by an unlicensed midwife (Philippine Statistics, 2015).

The difference between the American hospital birthing experience and that of the Philippines is vast. In the United States a private room/suite is almost standard and often comes with its own bathroom. The infant has its own bassinet and can be removed by hospital staff to give the mother some time to rest. In the Philippines, where resources are limited and births are numerous, nurses are forced to put two beds together for four mothers and four newborns, called a “tandem bed” (Epstein, 2014).

These groupings of beds are located in a large room with several other sets of beds together and there is no sense of privacy. Mothers and babies sleep in the same bed and it is not unheard of for nurses to have other mothers breastfeed an infant if that infant’s mother is indisposed, such as in the shower or bathroom (R. Cramer, Personal Interview, November 24, 2017). Both of these customs in the Philippines would be frowned upon in the United States.

In the Philippines, burying the placenta as soon as possible after labor is thought necessary to end labor pains and bleeding. (“Filipino Ethnicity,” n.d.) The baby’s father is often in charge of this task. In the United States, the placenta is often discarded by the hospital or birthing center where a woman delivers, although “some women save theirs and consume it in pill form, believing it helps boost well-being” (Huffington Post, 2012).

In the Philippines, mothers must rest completely and relatives take over the mother’s work and take care of her while she recovers. United States is one of the few countries left that does not offer federally-mandated paid maternity leave (Berger, 2016) and for some working mothers that do have paid maternity leave, they cannot afford to be off of work for very long. Likewise, it would not be expected or often possible for family members to take time off from work to assist a new mother with her infant and household duties.

The mother’s first milk, colostrum, is considered dirty in Filipino culture, so relatives feed the baby sugar water or formula for a few days until the mother’s regular milk comes in (R. Cramer, Personal Interview, November 24, 2017). Some Filipino women also believe that their emotions can be transmitted through breast milk and may avoid feeding their babies when they are upset or angry (“Filipino Ethnicity,” n.d.).

In contrast, American culture is beginning to recognize the importance of colostrum to the health of the babies and mothers are encouraged to allow the babies to get these initial nutrients from the mother’s milk, even if they intend to use formula predominately. Exclusively breastfeeding has been a struggle for both countries.

In the Philippines statistics show that exclusive breastfeeding rates have risen from thirty-six percent in 2008 to forty-seven percent in 2011 (Reyes, 2012). As of 2016 in the United States, exclusively breastfeeding through three months was at forty-four percent, but dropped to twenty-two percent at the six-month mark (CDC, 2016).

Despite the different views and beliefs that influence the stages of pregnancy and birth in different countries, at the heart of the matter are women who ultimately wish for their children to be born healthy and happy. This same thought transcends any cultural barriers and recognizes that motherhood, with its tremendous responsibilities and in spite of its challenges, is a noteworthy step in this journey we call life.

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