Midwives Group

Midwives Group

Midwives in the Highlands

Midwives in the Highlands

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mayan midwifery training from Alison's perspective...

Hola amigos y amigas! After three days in the midwifery training, I had about ten or eleven pages of notes. Much of it was either common knowledge or repetitive, so I took some highlights and have pasted them from my own blog to you all...

Here's some interesting facts I learned about Mayan midwifery (and more)
- Mayan midwives are called "Comadronas"
- The Mayan women of Guatemala are a largely oppressed population. This is so ingrained in their culture that you can see it in their faces. On our first day, they spoke quite softly with eyes toward the floor. By the end of the last training, they seemed much more empowered, looking us in the eyes and smiling.
- Most of the Mayan midwives operate with little or no equipment. Instead of a fetal stethoscope, they use a plastic tube (or a bamboo shaft) with two CD's attached on either end. They place one CD end upon the Mother's belly with the other end at their ear. Talk about innovation.
- Mayan midwives have a plant to treat just about any ailment that a woman could have: anemia, nausea, pain, UTI's, ANYTHING. Amazing. (p.s. corn silk is really good for treating UTI's. throw it in with some chamomile tea. wham bam no more UTI)
- Massage is a very important element in Mayan midwifery. Palpation of the mother's abdomen helps both in the treatment of contractions and other pains, and it also creates a significant level of trust between the midwife and her patient.
- Mayan midwives assist 85% of Guatemalan births
- If after the 5th month of pregnancy the baby is not in a vertex position, the Comadrona will massage the mother's abdomen with pomade to get the baby to re-position
- We met a little girl in the village that we've been training in (Pacutama) named Catarina Ofelia that was born during Hurricane Stan in 2005. Her father trekked 6 hours through the mountains in the middle of the storm with his wife in labor on his back. Talk about inspirational.
- Did you know: If the baby's heartbeat is heard on the mother's left side at the start of labor, that means that the baby will come quicker than if it's heard on the right side.
- During labor, the cervix should only be checked every 4 hours for dilation. Most women dilate around 1 cm per hour, but that's an average number. The reason why you wait 4 hours is because you don't want to put your patient through unnecessary pain. Imagine having your cervix stretched and a person trying to measure it every five seconds while you're having contractions. No bueno.
- Mayan midwives use onions to clear baby's sinuses directly after birth.
- Comadronas use sweat lodges called "tamazcals" to treat mothers and their babies after labor. It helps the healing process and is a calming, soothing way to end a slightly (or very) traumatic labor. The midwives blow hot air onto the mother's vagina to help it heal. They do not stitch up the perineum or vulva after birth, even if there is a tear (unless the mother has torn down to the rectum- this can be a serious situation that is usually referred to a hospital or birthing center in the city).
- In the past year, there have been over 50 births in Pacutama. Only 7 of them had complications, and all of those complications resulted in healthy mothers and babies.
- Mayans believe that the number of notches in the umbilical cord determine how many children that baby will eventually have.
- Usually, the placenta is either buried in the tamazcal or, if the family doesn't have a sweat lodge, they'll bury it under a tree or flower.
- Mayans believe that they need to teach their children respect both while they're in the uterus and throughout childhood.
- Women put money in their child's hand so that when they grow up they're not lacking and so they'll be hard workers. They rub chili around the baby's mouth for strength and spice in their life. They put salt on their tongue so their child will live a life of flavor and won't gossip. They swaddle their baby so they won't steal.

I hope I've shed at least a little light on the amazing experience we've had so far. These women are inspirational and I have every intention of returning.

- Alison Spillane


  1. Allison- YOU are amazing and inspirational! This has been the best trip EVER!! LOVE YOU-Abby

  2. Very interesting journal! thank you for sharing. I am a nursing student now hoping to get involved in a project like this. Is this group still going to Guatemala this summer (2013)?