How One Humble Piece of Cloth is Becoming a Doula’s Best Friend

An unassuming piece of cloth is having a growing impact within the birthing world and beyond these days, and is known simply as Rebozo. 

It is a traditional long piece of colourful  woven cloth, worn mostly as a shawl by indigenous women in Mexico and Central America – a la Frida Kahlo. The beautiful and intricately embroidered Rebozos are given to a woman on her wedding day and worn as a symbol that demands respect.

 The simpler ones however, the ones used everyday in these countries, as a baby carrier, or for carrying groceries, or as a cover for an impromptu nap and afternoon siesta, have a far more lively existence. 

In Central America this cotton Rebozo is used ritually by midwives and doulas to give a special massage to ease discomfort during pregnancy, and they also use it at the birth itself to alleviate pain during labour. An experienced midwife in these countries may even use the Rebozo to help turn a breech baby, or reposition a baby during labour to descend in an optimal fetal position, making birth easier and more comfortable. 

In recent years, this simple piece of fabric has been showing up increasingly in birth centres, at hospital births and home births in the Western World, becoming the go-to ‘tool’ of preference for many midwives and doulas attending births.

It is so versatile, that during labour it can serve as a makeshift mini tent that can shelter the mother’s eyes from harsh, stimulating hospital lights. This will help her stay more relaxed which, in turn,  is more conducive to the production of the birthing hormone oxytocin. By providing a woman and her partner a private retreat to use in the delivery room, increasing their intimacy, it can also help to get the endorphins and oxytocin flowing.  

The multifaceted Rebozo is often used in many creative ways to aid childbirth. A doula, to give one example, will sometimes wrap the Rebozo around a labouring woman’s pelvis, belly or shoulder and give a gentle rhythmic shifting movement with it, providing relief from aches and discomfort during contractions. 

More recently, it is gaining popularity with fertility massage therapists, working with women looking for alternative ways to aid conception. Rebozo for fertility helps to re-position a uterus by re-aligning a tilted womb into its optimum position; and easing the discomfort and pain of sub-fertility issues such as endometriosis.

In Mexico and Guatemala the Rebozo is used postpartum by a midwife in a ‘closing’ ceremony, known as ‘closing the bones’. The postpartum mother is wrapped in several Rebozos, one at the head, the shoulders, pelvis and feet. Usually, two midwives or doulas pull on the Rebozo, to gently tighten it, especially at the pelvis. This practice is growing in countries outside of Central America, as the importance of postpartum care is becoming increasingly recognized.  

‘Closing the Bones’ with the Rebozo makes good sense, because the joints and ligaments have been loosened and remain lax from the production of the birth hormone relaxin. Applying this deep pressure sends a proprioceptive message from body to brain, and helps a new mother feel contained again within her body after the expansive hard work of labour, giving her an opportunity for deep rest post labour, and helping to rekindle a woman’s pre-labour vitality. 

There is something about Rebozo that resonates deeply with those who use it, as it transforms into a remedying and restorative ‘tool’, often bringing a feeling of well-being and bliss to the recipient.

As the renowned Mexican midwife Naoli Vinaver tells us, “The Rebozo, as applied through the loving hands of their doulas, midwives and other caregivers, helps a woman and the baby inside, by offering support, adjustment, soothing relief and in the case of the postpartum period, a return to its pre-pregnant state of wholesomeness and integrity.”

In our frenetic consumer-driven world, the Rebozo and its many uses bring a gift rooted in community, grounded in the beauty, truth and power of simplicity.  More than just a humble piece of cloth; the Rebozo is a gem for women prenatal, perinatal, postnatal, and beyond.

For further information:

The Rebozo Technique Unfolded workbook by Mirjam de Keijzer and Thea van Tuyl is available in English at (www.rebozo.nl) 

Gena Kirby runs Rebozo workshops in North America (http://genakirby.com)

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