In this section, you will find out about the background of the rebozo, and how it was traditionally used

The rebozo is a traditional Mexican shawl/scarf that is used for all sorts of purposes: to keep warm, to carry loads, to be supported with during pregnancy and birth, and to carry babies. I’m going to keep calling it a rebozo because this is the most known term in the birth world, but, as you will found out below, the way a cloth is used is more universal than that.

The modern use of the rebozo to support expectant and birthing women was brought to the Western world by birthworkers who learnt the skills from traditional Mexican midwives.

In all cultures on the planet, some kind of cloth has been used to carry babies. In many cultures it is used (or was used) to rock and soothe the baby too. Rocking is such a primal rhythm we all experienced it in our mother’s womb, that we find it soothing all through our lives. Later, when the baby grew into a toddler, she would have used the cloth to dress up, pretend play, make a den etc.

As the child grew into a young woman she would use the cloth as a shawl to keep warm, as a clothing accessory, a blanket, to carry siblings (in traditional cultures women learn baby care from a very young age due to living in extended family conditions), and to carry loads.

It wasn’t just in the South American, African or Asian continent that women used such a cloth, it was all around the planet. In Ecuador it is called a Manta, and I have heard accounts of cloths used on every single continent around the world for similar purposes. For example in Tunisia they use a hammam towel (the Hamma is a turkish bath) called a Fouta for a postnatal massage similar to closing the bones. In Somalia they use a shawl called a Garbasar to support women through labour and then wrap their abdomen after birth, and in India sari fabrics are sometimes being used. Often the shawl doesn’t actually have a name, it’s just a piece of fabric that serves multiple roles. Warm countries tend to use thin, cotton type fabrics, and cold countries thicker, woollen ones . Poeple tend to use whatever fabric they happen to have available.

Contrary to popular belief, here is evidence of similar practises in Europe too. For example, there are pictures of women wearing their babies in Welsh shawls and Scottish plaid which date back from the 1940s. In a midwifery manual from the 19th Century, I found evidence of a piece of cloth being used to bind the abdomen and hips of new mothers in the UK (I talk about this in my book, Why postnatal recovery matters). As the shawl came out of fashion and modern practises like using a pushchair became seen as more fashionable and desirable this skill was soon lost, and because, like most traditional women-only practises, it was just passed on orally rather than written about, the knowledge was lost very quickly.

Later still when she became a woman, she might have been given a shawl as part of a menarche ceremony. She might have worn a special cloth on her wedding day.

When she became pregnant, she would have used the shawl to support her belly, and her midwives would have used it to alleviate the aches and pains of pregnancy, and maybe to help the baby move into the best position for birth.

During labour she would have used the shawl to hang from, to pull on, and her birth attendants would have used it to provide comfort measures, such as sifting, rocking, and shaking the apples.

After the birth she would have had a “baby moon” period. This is something pretty much universal in the world : new mothers have traditionally been alleviated from household tasks and cared for by family members for the first 30 to 40 days postpartum so they could recover and get to know their baby. Birth attendants, the village wise women, and relatives would have come to feed her nourishing food, and close her bones and help her body heal from the pregnancy and birth by using a combination of massage techniques and using the cloth to help move and bind her hips, organs and bones back into place.

She then would have to used the cloth to carry her baby and start the cycle all over again. Later as she grew old, her family members would have used the cloth to rock and soothe aches and pain. Finally the cloth would have been used as a shroud.

So you see, a traditional cloth, rebozo, shawl or cloth can be used to support a woman throughout her entire life. It is a universal phenomenon on our planet, something that we need to reclaim and teach to all women, as it is part of the essence of women circles and supporting women through life transitions. This is why I am so passionate about passing this skill to both expectant and new mothers, and to anybody who works with expectant and new mothers. We lost this skill and we need it back!