Do you or did you use a bigkis on your newborn baby? Learn why pediatricians don’t advise the use of bigkis for baby.
In this article, you’ll read:
- Why elders insist on using bigkis on newborns
- Bigkis for baby – a pediatrician debunks the belief
- Proper care for your baby’s umbilical stump
The use of the traditional bigkis is a practice that is being passed on to women by their mothers and older women in the family. We see our relatives use them on their newborn babies. To some, using a newborn belly binder is an important part of caring for the baby. It’s almost as essential as diapers and formula milk.
As Filipinos, we like observing cultural and traditional beliefs, especially those that have been passed down to us by our ancestors. One of these practices is putting a belly binder or more commonly known in our language as “bigkis,” on a newborn until the umbilical stump falls off.
But in this day and age, more parents are asking if bigkis for baby is still a thing, and if it is still advisable to use these belly binders on their little one. Is it really essential to newborn care, or is it an outdated belief that shouldn’t be practiced?
To find the answer to this question, we asked Dr. Jennifer Tiglao, a pediatrician from Makati Medical Center about the issue of putting bigkis on baby and other common superstitions surrounding baby care.
Why the elders insist on using it
The use of bigkis or a belly binder for baby span across different cultures. Our ancestors believe that this helps soothe a crying baby. Just use a thin cloth and wrap it on the baby’s tummy before you dress him up. It wouldn’t hurt to try, or there’s no harm in following tradition, they say.
They believe that the more snug it is on baby’s belly, the less his cries are going to be.
Meanwhile, according to the folk healers or manghihilot, using a bigkis on a child, especially on a girl, will lead to her having a nice figure and a flat tummy in the future. It also prevents the belly button from protruding and give her a nice “innie” shape.
They say using a newborn belly binder also helps with colic or kabag, which refers to prolonged and unexplainable crying of an infant, usually related to digestion or gas problems. Our elders believe that putting a bigkis on baby provides warmth and removes the “lamig” or spasms that causes discomfort to the baby.
But with all these theories and assumptions, is there really any scientific basis that putting a bigkis will help a newborn baby?
Baby’s belly and umbilical stump
A newborn’s abdominal area is very sensitive because of what’s connected to his belly button.
According to Healthlink British Columbia, the baby’s belly including his baby button should be protected and kept clean until the umbilical stump dries up and falls out on its own.
In old practices, parents believe that using bigkis protects the umbilical stump from being grazed by baby’s clothes or diaper. It protects against infection, especially since the umbilical stump is still fresh.
Before, midwives advise the use of bigkis for baby. But times have changed. Now, a lot of medical experts are disproving its benefits and maintain that there is no need to use or put anything on baby’s stomach that might obstruct her normal breathing.
As of writing, there has been no proven evidence on the effectivity and benefits of using a bigkis on a newborn, especially the part about the baby’s figure in the future.
Image from iStock
Bigkis for baby – dangers and possible complications
The elders say there’s no harm in following some beliefs and traditions. But this is not the case when it comes to taking care of an infant. Remember that newborns are so fragile that everything you do can have an effect on them and might harm their weak immune system.
Dr. Tiglao directly refuted the earlier said beliefs about the bigkis and clarified that doctors don’t advise parents to continue this practice. She said,
“No, we don’t advise using bigkis on your baby. Our elders insist on it because they think that using it gives a person a more desirable figure,” she said in Filipino.
According to the pediatrician, putting a bigkis on your newborn’s tummy might be bad for her. Here are some of the reasons:
It can obstruct baby’s breathing
“Remember, when babies were born, their tummies are globular, meaning they have big tummies and they have small chests. And they breathe through their abdomen, their diaphragm, that’s why you see the rise and fall of their chests when they are breathing.
If you put bigkis, the tummy will be restricted and it will be harder for them to breathe.” she explained.
Mas lalo siyang maglulungad o susuka
“When they breastfeed, their tummies are on the side of their belly button, so when it’s tight, the more they can spit up, especially if they drank a lot of milk.” said Dr. Tiglao.
Remember that an infant’s digestive system is not fully developed yet, and his stomach is still very small. So putting a binder on it might cause acid reflux and more frequent spit-ups.
Their umbilical stump might dry as quickly
“If your baby’s umbilical stump hasn’t fallen off yet, it won’t dry if it’s covered by the bigkis,” said the doctor.
Your baby’s umbilical stump will dry out quickly if left alone and not covered by any restricting cloth.
Your baby’s belly button might get infected.
“Because it’s wet, the umbilical stump might become the source of infection. Because sometimes, the bigkis might get wet from baby’s pee (especially if it’s a boy), which can cause bacteria to grow in that area,” explained Dr. Tiglao.
She maintained that air drying is the fastest, quickest and safest way for the umbilical stump to fall on its own. If you cover it, the moisture gets trapped and it will cause bacteria to grow and multiply. At the same time, you won’t notice that there’s a problem if the area is always covered by the bigkis.
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How to care for your baby’s umbilical stump
The Philippine Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise on the regular cleaning of the newborn’s umbilical stump, and letting it dry and not covering it with bigkis or bandage so that it will fall on its own.
There will be no infection if your baby’s umbilical stump will be left clean and dry. So before you touch or check on it, make sure that your hands are also clean and dry.
If it gets wet or dirty, wash it off using a cotton ball slightly dipped in warm water. After you clean it, gently pat it with a soft towel and let it air dry.
Experts advise against giving the baby a full bath if the umbilical stump hasn’t fallen off yet. A sponge bath will do until then. You can also ask your child’s pediatrician if you can use alcohol to clean the baby’s umbilical stump, and what type of alcohol is allowed. Don’t hesitate to ask your child’s doctor if you are unsure on how to clean it.
Always check your baby’s abdominal and belly button area for any redness, bleeding, wounds, or even a foul smell, even after the umbilical stump falls off because this may indicate an infection.
Don’t apply any cream, natural remedies (like garlic clove or guava leaves) and even antibiotic on it, without the advise of your child’s doctor.
The umbilical stump usually falls of within 7 to 10 days after birth. Consult your child’s pediatrician if it hasn’t fallen off after 3 weeks.
Image from Freepik
Dr. Tiglao reminds parents that there’s nothing wrong with following traditional practice on newborn care. But there are limitations, especially if your child’s health and welfare is on the line.
“For me, these traditional customs are not bad as long as it doesn’t harm the baby. It doesn’t stop the development of the baby or it doesn’t hinder the health of the baby.
If it helps him grow up to be strong and healthy, it’s okay to follow the advice of our elders. But if you think this will make your baby sick or hinder his development, I think you should always listen to your doctor, to your pediatrician because we are here to guide you.”
AAP Textbook of Pediatric Care, Mayo Clinic, Health Link British Columbia, Philippine Pediatric Society
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