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  • Writer's pictureBirth Companion in Modena

The Rebozo

I have been wanting to write something on this topic for a long time, because probably many readers don’t know a lot about it. But that’s about to change!

Source: Rebozo Italia

If you see a rebozo for the first time, you see a long colored type of scarf. Maybe not the one that you would immediately wear to your Christmas dinner, although… who knows 😊. But calling a rebozo just a ‘scarf’ doesn’t do justice to the versatility of this exceptional tool, nor to its great history and symbolism. Let me get into this after telling you about my first experience with it.

The first time I heard the word “rebozo” was during my internship in the delivery room at the hospital. A woman suffered from low back pains and labor wasn’t progressing. The midwife explained that it possibly was an OP, an occiput posterior, which means that the baby wasn’t in the best position to be born. After trying different positions, the midwife took a bed sheet, draped it around the hips of the woman (who was on all fours on the bed at that time), kept it tight with both hands and started ‘jiggling’ the woman’s hips, gently but with a firm hand. After a while I took over, as you can imagine it is quite exhausting to do. We even did it together, each holding one end of the sheet (a bit tricky, because it needs some coordination to find the right rhythm). And believe it or not, not much later, the same woman was holding her beautiful son in her arms, after a long, but successful natural labor process.

What happened? The back of the baby’s head was pointing to the mother’s spine. This generated a pressure that caused a lot of low back pain. The baby couldn’t enter the pelvis in the right way, and was stuck right above it. By changing positions, and using the ‘jiggling’ moves, space was made at the inlet of the pelvis, and the baby was stimulated to find a better position. Once this happened, finding its way through the pelvis was so much easier, and the baby was born in no time.

It wasn’t until I started reading more about the use of the rebozo, months after this experience, that I realized I had seen it before, without linking it to a rebozo. At a birth center in Lima, a laboring woman was hanging in a beautiful fabric that was attached to the ceiling, to cope with the contractions. It was used as a support while she was wiggling it as a rocking chair in between contractions or as a rope while she was squatting. Sometimes it served as a safe shelter, to bury her head in it, in order to concentrate better during the contraction, or to bite in when the pain was hard to bear. It was so nice to see that, even without any instructions, the woman followed her instincts to use this ‘scarf’ in all its versatility.

A rebozo in the Mesoamerican cultures

A rebozo is a long, rectangular piece of fabric, finished by fringes (“repacejos” in Spanish) at both ends. Already in the 18th century, some dictionaries mentioned the word, explaining it as a “mantle used by women to cover the ´bozo´(neck)”. It was mainly used in Mexico by the native people, in daily life for carrying goods, or as an accessory on an evening out. Although the rebozo was used long before the Spanish colonization, from that time on many rebozos were made in the typically Spanish colors.

Source: Rebozo Italia

Color and scent changed according to the occasion. A black rebozo was given to the widow. Feathers were intertwined into the rebozo of a bride (with the corresponding scent!), to symbolize a hen staying at home and care for her nest.

And then of course there’s the long-standing use of the rebozo during pregnancy and birth. In the Maya culture the woman has to undergo death, in order to give birth (think about a seed in the ground that dies so a little plant can sprout). Therefore the laboring woman is accompanied by a ‘partera’, a wise woman that is destined to protect this whole process. The rebozo is just one of the supporting tools that help her to do so.

The westernization of the indigenous traditional medicine

Although the origin lies in the Mesoamerican culture, the rebozo finds its way in the western culture, as one of many alternatives for the more medical approach of supporting pregnancy and birth. A Danish study (Iversen et al., 2017) states that the use of a rebozo can be seen as a “noninvasive, nonpharmacological method used during labour” and that “the women’s experiences of the rebozo technique performed during labour were of both a physical and a psychological nature”. The women in the study mentioned that receiving rebozo alleviate labor pain without medication, contributes to bodily pleasure (like receiving a massage) and makes their muscles relax. Although some women don’t like the use of a rebozo, no one experiences it as affecting their own or their child’s security during labor.

But it’s not only about the physical advantages; also the psychological advantages are important. When performed by the midwife, an empowering feeling is given to the laboring woman, a feeling that the midwife is there to help her through this process. And the contribution of the partner does even more! Cooperating with the partner makes the woman feel that she is being supported, that she isn’t doing this alone. It’s even experienced as fun and enjoyable as they all smile and laugh while doing it.

A study published by Cohen and Thomas (2015) focusses on the use of a rebozo, specifically in case of a malposition of the baby. They conclude that “the traditional Mexican rebozo technique of pelvic massage, sifting, or jiggling offers a potentially valuable tool to help correct fetal malposition.”

Rebozo techniques

It is impossible to go over all the different practices of a rebozo, but generally we can classify them in three main groups: relaxation, techniques to apply during pregnancy and birth and carrying the baby.

During pregnancy you can work on the back, on the belly or on other parts of the body for relaxation. Techniques can be done while standing, lying down, on all fours; whatever feels comfortable for the pregnant women. Many of the techniques used during pregnancy can be helpful during labor. Think of the ‘shaking the apples’ technique (“la caramella” in Italian), that can be very relaxing, but also helps the baby find a better position to go into the pelvis. Lots of these techniques are explained in the book “The rebozo technique Unfolded” written by rebozo experts Mirjam de Keijser and Thea Van Tuyl (2010). Worth reading if you are interested.

Just one note. The rebozo is part of a cultural tradition, and it is important to respect this. Therefore it is only normal that it won’t be used without proper reference to its history. Although the techniques are applied in different situations these days (with a scarf, a sheet, a muslin etc.), don’t call it ‘rebozo’, unless it is handmade and it has its origin in Latin-America.

Rebozo-ing” in my daily life

My experiences with the rebozo, attending the Midwifery Today Conference last fall and following the Spinning Babies workshop (where the rebozo found its way as an addition to the crucial role of maternal positions for optimal fetal positioning), made me decide that I wanted to dig in and specialize more in the wonderful world of this colorful fabric. I registered at a rebozo workshop, organized by Rebozo Italia (part of Mammole School) at Montegrotto Terme. Together with 10 other midwifes and educators, I got to know more about the history and culture, and learned the tips and tricks of each technique. After 2 entire days of sifting, jiggling, massaging, lifting etc., I can assure you that I didn’t have to go to the gym that week anymore!

Since then I apply these techniques during relaxation moments of pregnant women, teach the techniques to their partners, and apply them in preparation of and during labor. I even do it at home with my children. And they love it! So I would suggest, you give it a try!

Source: Rebozo Italia

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