Spiritual and Religious Aspects of Pregnancy and Birth in Nigeria

Women’s Perspectives


  • Magdalena Ohaja National University of Ireland Galway
  • Jo Murphy-Lawless National University of Ireland Galway
  • Margaret Dunlea Trinity College Dublin




spiritual beliefs, religious beliefs, pregnancy and birth, Igbo, Nigeria


Nigeria is both a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, with plural health systems – unorthodox (traditional and faith-based) and orthodox (formal or modern) healthcare. Religious, spiritual and cultural/traditional beliefs about health and wellbeing remain central in everyday pregnancy and childbirth discourses in many lessincome countries including Nigeria. This qualitative hermeneutic study explored the spiritual and religious aspects of pregnancy and birth from the perspective of Igbo-Nigerian women. A purposive sample of 25 women took part in an individual faceto- face audio-recorded interview. Data were analysed using Gadamerian hermeneutic principles to unpack the meaning of religious and spiritual practices of pregnancy and birthing as articulated by women. The three themes that emerged are: “reliance on the supremacy of God”, “belief in supernatural forces”, and “keeping it secret” with most emphasis on the first theme. Pregnancy and birth are physiological and psychosocial events which have deep-seated spiritual connections. An understanding of the spiritual and religious aspects of women’s need during pregnancy and birthing becomes crucial.

Author Biographies

Magdalena Ohaja, National University of Ireland Galway

Magdalena Ohaja is Lecturer in Midwifery at the National University of Ireland Galway. Her research interests include safety/risk and normality in maternity care, women’s/ maternal health, international midwifery/policies, socio-economic, religious, spiritual, cultural and political determinants of maternal health.

Jo Murphy-Lawless, National University of Ireland Galway

Jo Murphy-Lawless is a sociologist, member of the Elephant Collective, the Birth Practices and Policies Forum, and author of Reading Birth and Death: A History of Obstetric Thinking. Research Fellow, Centre for Health Evaluation, Methodology Research and Evidence Synthesis, National University of Ireland Galway.

Margaret Dunlea, Trinity College Dublin

Margaret Dunlea is Assistant Professor of Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin with links to practice. Research and practice interests include the history of maternity care, ways of advancing meaningful change in the Irish maternity services, rethinking the notion of spirituality, normality and risk in maternity care, and exploring curriculum development that will support autonomous midwifery practice.


Adanikin, A. I., U. Onwudiegwu and A. A. Akintayo (2014) “Reshaping Maternal Services in Nigeria: Any Need for Spiritual Care?” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 14(196): 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2393-14-196

Adefolaju, T. (2014) “Traditional and Orthodox Medical Systems in Nigeria: The Imperative Synthesis”. American Journal of Health Research 2(4): 118–24. Available at: http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/pdf/10.11648.j.ajhr.20140204.13.pdf (accessed 15 September 2019).

Adegoke, O., and A. Jegede (2016) “Continued Patronage of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) by Pregnant Women in a Traditional African Community”. Annals of Public Health Research 3(3): 1045. Available at: https://www.jscimedcentral.com/PublicHealth/publichealth-3-1045.pdf (accessed 15 September 2018).

Asamoah-Gyadu, J. K. (2014) “Therapeutic Strategies in African Religions: Health, Herbal Medicines and Indigenous Christian Spirituality”. Studies in World Christianity 20(1): 70–90. https://doi.org/10.3366/swc.2014.0072

Aziato L., P. N. Odai and C. N. Omenyo (2016) “Religious Beliefs and Practices in Pregnancy and Labour: An Inductive Qualitative Study among Post-partum Women in Ghana”. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 16(138): 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0920-1

Bahar, Z., H. Okcay, S. Ozbicakci, A. Beser, B. Ustuun and M. Ozturk (2005) “The Effects of Islam and Traditional Practices on Women’s Health and Reproduction”. Nursing Ethics 12(6): 556–70. https://doi.org/10.1191/0969733005ne826oa

Callister, L. C., and I. Khalaf (2010) “Spirituality in Childbearing Women”. The Journal of Perinatal Education 19(2): 16–24. https://doi.org/10.1624/105812410X495514

Crowther, S., and J. Hall (2015) “Spirituality and Spiritual Care in and around Childbirth”. Women and Birth 28: 173–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2015.01.001

Gadamer, H. G. (2004) Truth and Method. Translated by J. Weinsheimer and D. G. Marshall, 3rd edn. London: Continuum.

—(2006) “Classical and Philosophical Hermeneutics”. Theory, Culture & Society 23(1): 26–56. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0263276406063228

Giddens, A. (1991) The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Stanford University Press.

Iroegbu, P. E. (2010) Introduction to Igbo Medicine and Culture and Nigeria: Essays in Endogenous Medical System, Life and Culture. Canada: Lulu.com Publishing.

Izugbara, C. O. (2000) “Women’s Understanding of Factors Affecting their Reproductive Health in Rural Ngwa Community”. African Journal of Reproductive Health 2(2): 62–68. https://doi.org/10.2307/3583449

Izugbara, C. O., and J. K. Ukwayi (2003) “The Clientele of Traditional Birth Homes in Southeastern Nigeria”. Healthcare for Women International 24(3): 177–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/07399330390178468

—(2004) “An Intercept Study of Persons Attending Traditional Homes in Southeastern Nigeria”. Culture, Health and Sexuality 6(2): 101–114. https://doi.org/10.1080/136910501198851

Izugbara, C. O., and E. C. J. Duru (2005) “Transethnic Sojourns for Ethnomedical Knowledge among Traditional Igbo Healers in Nigeria: A Preliminary Observation”. Journal of World Anthropology: Occasional Papers 2(2): 27–48. Available at: https://thejournalofworldanthropology.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/izugbara-daru-art.pdf (accessed 15 September 2018).

Izugbara, C. O., J. W. Etukudoh and A. S. Brown (2005) “Transethnic Itineraries for Ethnomedical Therapies in Nigeria: Igbo Women Seeking Ibibio Cures”. Health and Place 11: 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2003.12.001

Izugbara, C. O., and D. P. Ngilangwa (2010) “Women, Poverty and Adverse Maternal Outcomes in Nairobi, Kenya”. BMC Women’s Health 10(33): 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6874-10-33

Laverty, S. M. (2003) “Hermeneutic Phenomenology and Phenomenology: A Comparison of Historical and Methodological Considerations”. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2(3): 21–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690300200303

Moloney, S. (2007) “Dancing with the Wind: A Methodological Approach to Researching Women’s Spirituality around Menstruation and Birth”. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 6(1): 114–25. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/160940690700600102

Ndubisi, E. J. O., and A. O. Ogbuishi (2015) “Religion and the Perception/Promotion of Human Life In Africa: Examining the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria”. Journal of Research in Business and Management 3(10): 42–48. Available at: http://www.questjournals.org/jrbm/papers/vol3-issue10/F3104248.pdf (accessed 4 October 2018).

Nwoye, C. M. A. (2011) “Igbo Cultural and Religious Worldview: An Insider’s Perspective”. International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology 3(9): 304–317. Available at: https://academicjournals.org/journal/IJSA/article-full-text-pdf/35A0C542887 (accessed 4 October 2018).

Ohaja, M., and J. Murphy-Lawless (2017) “Unilateral Collaboration: The Practices and Understandings of Traditional Birth Attendants in Southeastern Nigeria”. Women and Birth 30(4): e165–e171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2016.11.004

Olanisebe, S. O. (2002) “Western and Traditional Herbal Medicines in Nigeria: The Biblical Perspective”. Religions: A Journal of the Nigerian Association for the Study of Religion 15 & 16: 52–70.

Olugbenga, F. F., M. A. Adewale and A. Olubankole (2016) “Preference for Church-based Maternity Centres among Women Seeking Delivery services in Akoko South West Local Government Area of Ondo State, Nigeria”. International Journal of Sciences 5(3): 1–8. https://doi.org/10.18483/ijSci.943

Sampson, Isaac T. (2014.) “Religion and the Nigerian State: Situating the de facto and de jure Frontiers of State–Religion Relations and its Implications for National Security”. Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 3: 311–39. https://doi.org/10.1093/ojlr/rwt026

Solanke, B. L., O. A. Oladosu, A. Akinlo and S. O. Olanisebe (2015) “Religion as a Social Determinant of Maternal Health Care Service Utilisation in Nigeria”. African Population Studies 29(2): 1868–1881. https://doi.org/10.11564/29-2-761

Udoma, E. J., A. D. Ekanem, A. M. Abasiattai and E. A. Bassey (2008) “Reasons for Preference of Delivery in Spiritual Church-based Clinics by Women of South-south Nigeria”. Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice 11(2): 100–103.

Wagner, W. (2001) “Fish Can’t See Water: The Need to Humanize Birth”. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 75: S227–S37. Available at: http://bhpelopartonormal.pbh.gov.br/estudos_cientificos/arquivos/fish_cant_see_water_the_need_to_humanize_birth.pdf (accessed 15 September 2018).

White, P. (2015). “The Concept of Diseases and Health Care in African Traditional Religion in Ghana”. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 71(3): 1–7. Available at: https://hts.org.za/index.php/hts/article/view/2762/5866 (accessed 10 September 2018).

Williams, O. E. (2018) “A Blur between the Spiritual and the Physical: Birthing Practice among the Igbo of Nigeria in the Twentieth Century”. In Sacred Inception: Reclaiming the Spirituality of Birth in the Modern World, ed. Elaporte M. and M. Martin, 97–112. London: Lexington Books.



How to Cite

Ohaja, M., Murphy-Lawless, J., & Dunlea, M. (2020). Spiritual and Religious Aspects of Pregnancy and Birth in Nigeria: Women’s Perspectives. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 7(2), 131–144. https://doi.org/10.1558/hscc.37408