EKYOGERO is a popular cultural bath in many communities in Uganda for newborn babies consisting of various herbs, but do you really know what you are leading your baby into? Agnes Kyotalengerire reports.
When Daphine Mukiisa was pregnant, her grandmother preached to her the benefits of using ekyogero; a cultural herbal bath for newborn babies.
Mukiisa took her grandmotherâ€™s advice seriously. As soon as she was discharged from hospital, she asked her mother and other elderly women to gather the herbs to bathe her baby.
THE use of ekyogero is widespread in Uganda, but it is more common among tribes from central, western and south-western Uganda.
Rose Namuli, an elderly Muganda woman, says according to the Kiganda culture, the herbal bath is a must for a newborn baby.
â€œTraditionally, the babyâ€™s grandmother gathered particular herbs like olweza, ebombo, omwolola and omwetango. In addition, she had the responsibility of teaching her daughter-in-law how to boil the herbs and bathe the baby,â€ she explains.
According to Namuli, not only is the herbal bath used to cleanse and give the baby a smooth skin, it is also believed to brings good luck to the baby and ward off curses. She adds that ekyogero prevents skin rash (enoga).
Norah Ahabwe, an elderly woman from Mbarara, says when a newborn baby is bathed in ekyogero, he gets good luck and is given some to drink to protect it against diseases like malaria.
She says the herbal concoction also boosts appetite and cleans the digestive system.
Jolly Byenkya, the minister of culture in Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, says about 10 herbs are gathered and boiled to make ekyogero.
She says the baby is bathed in the herbs from the first day of birth up to three months.
Byenkya adds that the herbal bath is intended to prevent bad luck and diseases.
What medical experts say
Although many mothers believe in this cultural practice, medical experts do not think it contributes much in preventing skin diseases and other ailments.
â€œThe mixture of herbs used to bathe the baby in the first days of birth is suspected to cause neonatal septicemia. The way ekyogero is prepared, stored and recycled provides a favourable environment for bacteria to grow. The cultured bacteria predisposes the baby to infection,â€ says Dr. Jessca Nakibuuka, a paediatrician working with Mulago Hospital.
According to a study on the cause of neonatal admissions in Mulago Hospital, 50% of mothers use ekyogero to bathe their newborn babies, with 2% of these mothers administering it orally.
Dr. Jolly Nankunda, a neonatologist at Mulago Hospital, affirms that newborn babies get exposed to infection, with the entry points being the umbilical cord, eyes, skin and genital tract.
However, Dr. Mauda Kamatenesi, an environment-ethnomedicine specialist at the Department of Botany, Makerere University, notes that in rural areas, babies are born in poor hygienic conditions, which makes them vulnerable to infections.
She says the herbs help prevent a number of ailments in babies and at the same time boost their immune system because some plants have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties and essential oils.
â€œThe herbal bath prevents skin diseases and allergies. In addition, the babies are given a few drops to drink, but this is done on the first day before it is recycled. Part of it may be put aside for drinking,â€ she explains.
Kamatenesi affirms that the drops of ekyogero that are given to the baby to drink help to cleanse the internal system, boost their appetite and prevent colic, diarrhoea and malaria.
She adds that ekyogero can also act as a dewormer.
Kamatenesi, however, regrets that people in urban areas do not know how to use it. Besides, they do not have access to the herbs, the reason they recycle it, she says.
She says the plants, having been used for centuries with no negative effect, makes them relatively safe.
Emily Tumwikirize, the mother of six-month-old Nickson
I come from Rukungiri district. I grew up seeing my mother gather the herbs to bathe my sisterâ€™s children. When my baby was born, he developed a skin rash, so my mother-in-law brought me ekyogero from up-country. I would boil water, put it in a basin and soak in the herbs. After the water cooled, I would bathe the baby and pour the herbs away. I would use fresh herbs the following morning, something I did for one week.
Ritah Mulungi, the mother of two-month-old Erisah Muwanguzi
I learnt of ekyogero from women who have children. After my baby made three weeks, I went to St. Balikuddembe Market and bought some herbs. My mother later sent me more herbs from home (Kayunga district). I boiled the herbs, cooled them and bathed the baby. My babyâ€™s skin rash cleared as soon as I started using ekyogero. I kept some of the mixture and would warm it in the morning when going to bathe him. I used it for three weeks, but was advised to use it whenever the baby gets a skin rash. So I had to keep the herbs in dry form.
Ashelati, a mother of four
In the Teso culture, when a baby is born, the grandmother has the responsibility of gathering particular herbs to bathe the baby. The herbs are pounded, mixed in warm water and used to bathe the baby, except the head. I also use ekyogero to bathe my newborn babies when they are a week old until they are three weeks.
Rose Kekimuri, the mother of four-month-old Keith Muwonge
I am born in Mbarara. I grew up seeing my aunts and neighbours bathe their babies in ekyogero. It is used to cure and prevent skin diseases in addition to other ailments. After I gave birth, my mother-inâ€“law, who is a Muganda, brought me ekyogero from up-country. I started using ekyogero when my baby was two weeks old. I would have started earlier if I had it. I boiled the herbs, put them aside to cool and bathed the baby without soap. I would keep it for the next day and used the same herbal bath for two months.
Apart from just bathing the baby, a mother has to massage its body with the herbs. Though we do not have the practice in my culture, when I gave birth, my sister-inâ€“law brought them for me. I used them from the first day until the baby was one month.
â€˜Ekyogeroâ€™ How safe is the herbal bath?