A rebozo is a long rectangular shawl that originated in Mexico. Like many non-western traditions, the art of rebozo is more than a tool. The use of a rebozo has grown in the midwife and doula communities because of the teachings from traditional Mexican midwives. This is a practice that has been passed through generations of midwives and birth workers over centuries. In addition to the cultural and traditional significance, a rebozo can be utilized during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. This article covers the history of the rebozo, how it can be used for relaxation, support, and pain relief, and how to find a practitioner who is experienced in the art of rebozo.
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What is a Rebozo?
A rebozo is a long rectangular shawl that originated in Mexico as a staple in women’s wardrobe in the colonial period. It is the result of the mix of indigenous and Spanish culture. During the Mexican revolution, women wore and used it in the movement and gained significance beyond just being an element of clothing. The rebozo has long been used in Mexican midwifery and has grown popular among midwives and doulas worldwide. There are excellent resources, like Naoli Vinaver, a traditional Mexican midwife who has shared the art of the Mexican rebozo for decades. While a rebozo can be a helpful tool, it is also essential to recognize the cultural significance and respect the tradition. For a beautiful explanation of the history and importance of the rebozo, watch this video.
A rebozo typically measures about two feet (60 cm) wide and 5-6.5 feet (1.5-2 meters) long. Traditionally they are made from 100% cotton and are handwoven. This is far more than a piece of fabric. In addition to the cultural and traditional significance, a rebozo can be utilized for many uses. It can provide shade from the sun, keep you warm, you can wrap and carry a baby in it, or use it to carry other items. The main topic of this article is the role of a rebozo during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.
There has been some backlash about practitioners using a rebozo who are not members of the culture from which it originated. There can be value to utilizing these techniques that everyone can benefit from while still respecting the art of rebozo and the Mexican culture. This article is a basic overview of what a rebozo is and how it is used during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. If this is an intervention you are interested in, please seek someone who has formal training from a qualified and experienced teacher.
Rebozo for Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum
The use of a rebozo has grown in the midwife and doula communities because of the teachings from traditional Mexican midwives like Naoli Vinaver at midwife conferences worldwide. The best resource for you to learn about using a rebozo or to work with someone who is educated about using a rebozo will always be from someone who has learned the art from a great source. If you are working with a midwife or doula, I encourage you to ask if they utilize a rebozo, their level of experience with it, and how you can incorporate it into your care.
Midwives and doulas typically practice rebozo techniques. In the United States, midwives are primarily attending births for low-risk pregnant women. If you are high-risk, have placenta previa, or have had any vaginal bleeding, those are recognized as contraindications for using a rebozo. In addition, while using a rebozo, you should always be comfortable. If your midwife or doula is using a rebozo on you and, at any point, you are uncomfortable or experiencing pain, you should speak up and stop immediately. As with any interventions, please bring them up with your care provider if you have any questions.
There are a few ways to utilize a rebozo during pregnancy for support, relaxation, or pain relief.
You can fold it in half lengthwise, so you have a thinner long material, and wrap it under your belly, around your hips. This can provide some support to your belly and support your lower back and hips. In this way, you use it similarly to a brace for your lower back or belly support.
One of the methods used with a rebozo is manteada, which is the Spanish name for the technique of sifting your belly. The goal of this is to take some pressure off your belly and back by supporting the weight of your belly with the rebozo. This can also act as a massage. It may help relax you and your muscles and ligaments. To try this, you get on your hands and knees, and the cloth goes around your belly, and your midwife or doula stands above or beside you while holding both ends of the fabric and gently moves the material back and forth in a jiggling or sifting motion.
Using a Rebozo to Reposition a Breech Baby
It is thought that using a rebozo can allow your baby more room to maneuver in your belly. If you want to use a rebozo with the intent of rotating your baby out of a breech position, this is something you should have done with an experienced midwife or doula who is trained in the art of rebozo.
If you have explored the Spinning Babies website, using a rebozo is one of the methods to help pregnancy comfort and birth ease. Since 2020 Spinning Babies has changed its curriculum to “prioritize the use of the rebozo cloth to practitioners of the Rebozo lineages (people with Indigenous connections to Mexico, Central, and some parts of South America).” Spinning Babies recommends you find an Indigenous practitioner with rebozo manteada traditions. Spinning Babies replaced the previous rebozo technique with the jiggle, which gently uses hands to jiggle various muscles as a relaxation technique. You can read more on the jiggle here. For more information on breech babies and the evidence on Spinning Babies, see this episode.
One way to use a rebozo during labor is to enlist the help of your midwife, doula, or birth partner. You are on your knees leaning forward with your head near or on the floor for this technique. Your midwife or doula places the rebozo over your behind and holds it on either side. They then gently sift back and forth. Spinning Babies has a similar technique called “shake the apple tree.”
In labor, you could use a rebozo to help support your weight as someone else holds the ends of it, with the cloth supporting your belly or wrapped around your back. There is a lot of evidence that being in an upright or squatting position can make your labor easier and shorter. For more information on labor positions, see this article.
It is also possible to use a rebozo the hold and help support you during a squat in labor. If you have something to hang it up high, you can hold the ends to help support your weight. You can use a similar technique to tie a knot in one end of a bedsheet and hang it over the top of a door. For example, if you are still at home, you can tie a big knot at one end and hang it over your bathroom door, then shut the door so you are outside of the bathroom. The sheet should be secure so that you can hold on to it. As you hold it, you squat so that some of your weight is supported, and you are going to use it as leverage to pull down while you squat. You don’t want the knot too close at the end of the sheet, so it will stay put when you hang it over the door and shut the door. As with any of these positions, if you have any concerns about safety or stability, you can always avoid them if you are not comfortable doing it.
After you have your baby, you could use a rebozo to wrap around your belly for support. There are some traditions practiced for a sealing ceremony or a closing of the bones ritual. These could include an herbal bath, massage and may end with your belly being tightly wrapped in a rebozo. These are practices that should be done with someone who has training and experience.
It is possible to use a rebozo as a baby wrap, as a baby blanket, to shelter your baby from the sun, or to use in any way you would use a lightweight blanket. Rebozos are beautiful fabrics that can have a myriad of uses throughout your pregnancy and parenting journey.
The Evidence on Using a Rebozo
Like many traditional practices that originated outside Western countries, there is not much research on using a rebozo.
A clinical trial set out to assess whether rebozo – either as pre-treatment for external cephalic version or as a catalyst of spontaneous version – will increase the incidence of the cephalic presentations at labor and reduce the number of planned cesarean sections. Unfortunately, the final results from this study are not yet available.
One article in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health reviews a few techniques using a rebozo in a hospital setting. One small study explored women’s experiences of the rebozo technique during labor. Overall, the experiences were positive. The authors of this study conclude that health professionals should view rebozo as an easily accessible clinical tool.
Finding a Practitioner
If you are seeking a midwife or doula with experience in this art, you can ask a few questions about their experience and training. You may want to know where they learned about using a rebozo if they have had any specific training. There is a difference between someone who recently had a two-hour seminar on the practice and someone who has worked with a rebozo for their entire career. How often do they use a rebozo in their practice? What are the main indications for utilizing a rebozo? Do they use it as a method of relaxation during pregnancy, as a tool for birth, or do they have experience using it to turn a breech baby?
Purchasing a Rebozo
As rebozos have grown in popularity, so has their presence on retail sites online. One way to honor the tradition of the rebozo is to purchase one from an artisan who is also a member of the culture it came from. If you are buying a rebozo, it should be 100% cotton. Other materials may have more stretch in the fabric and may not work as well. Purchasing a rebozo from a traditional maker will ensure that you are getting the right material and product. I found a few sources online to buy an authentic rebozo. If you are working with a midwife or doula, they may recommend where to get one in your area.
Below are a couple of websites that offer rebozos online.
Antama offers rebozos online and collaborates with seven artisan groups around Oaxaca.
Rebozos from La Matriz Birth are woven by the Martinez Mendez family. La Matriz gives a portion of the profits to Monarch Midwives, a 501c3 dedicated to removing barriers to midwifery education.
A rebozo can be an excellent practice during pregnancy and birth. Like many non-western traditions, the art of rebozo is more than a tool. This is a practice that has been passed through generations of midwives and birth workers over centuries. If you have the opportunity to use a rebozo, I hope you find it helpful. If this is something you are interested in exploring, I hope you get connected with someone who is skilled and who honors the long traditions of the art.
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