Check out the wild ways various cultures treat the arrival of a new baby.
As the conceiving, growing, birthing and nurturing of a new human is such a sacred, and in many ways mystical, experience, it’s not surprising every culture has unique traditions surrounding this journey – especially when the little babe has emerged. However, some of these traditions are pretty out there, ranging from slanging insults at the newborn so the devil doesn’t pay attention to her or him, to slaughtering a sheep and shaving the baby’s head.
While these might initially seem strange to many Westerners (my hand is raised!) I also find that exploring these wild rituals represent a piece of what I adore about travel: the discovery of ways-of-living and beliefs that are far from anything I’ve been exposed to, yet steeped in meaning for those in said culture. I think it’s beautiful that our world is a tapestry of customs, and that these dynamic customs start at birth.
Confinement and No Showering
In many Chinese households, a woman is expected to stay in her house with the newborn for the first 30-days after birth, and abstain from eating fruit, drinking cold water, or showering. While many women no longer follow the shower thing, the confinement and, food and drink restrictions, are still typically honored.
This period often comes with a confinement-nanny, or what we typically refer to as a postpartum doula in the United States, who helps care for mom and baby. The support, and time to be at home, is supposed to support the mother in healing, and the baby in adjusting to this new world.
Soul Transfer Through a Laugh
A compelling Navajo belief is that a baby’s soul makes the transition from the spirit to physical world the first time they laugh... and here I was just thinking it had to do with gas. Furthermore, this transition results in a large party to commemorate the occasion. And, the person who makes the baby laugh is tasked with organizing the celebration. Jokes on them.
The Igbo people in West Africa bury the placenta at the foot of a palm or fruit tree and believe that the plant will flourish in proportion to the child’s successes through life.
A Shaving, and Sheep Sacrifice
Some Muslim cultures sacrifice a sheep and shave a baby’s head on the seventh day of their life. Their hair is then weighed and that amount of silver is given to a charity. In addition, the meat is often distributed to friends, family and the poor.
More Head Shaving
The Hindus also shave the baby’s head soon after birth and sprinkle it on the holy river Ganges.
Newborn Cold Plunge
Babies in Guatemala often receive their first cold plunge straight away, as it’s believed to boost their immunity and help them sleep better. Some studies back this practice, at least for cold-plunging adults.
Cow Urine and Milk Bath
Some Indian woman do not bathe until the fifth day after birth when they “bathe” in cow urine and milk, before napping in a room filled with cow poop... And before we gag, let’s not forget cows are sacred in India.
In addition, according to Ayurveda - the ancient Indian holistic healing system - cow milk, urine and dung have healing properties. There’s actually a thriving market of hygiene and beauty products in India that contain these cow commodities.
Don’t Let Baby Touch the Ground
The Balinese do not let a baby touch the ground for the first three months of life, as they believe touching the Earth too soon will break their connection to the spirit world. This leads to some die-hard babywearing. After the three-month mark, they have a ceremony to honor baby’s first contact with the physical realm, at least the dirt-covered part of it.
Umbilical Cord Preservation
Because the umbilical cord was baby’s first connection to their mother, the Japanese preserve it in a special box that’s kept for posterity. They also call this sacred cord the “tail of the belly”... kinda accurate.
“We hope chickens poop on you!”
As some in the Bulgarian culture believe the devil steals whatever is admired in a person, they try to pull one over on the pesky lord of the underworld by telling babies they’re ugly, and that they hope chickens poop on them...
A Side of Placenta
In some communities in the United States, we’re all about eating that placenta y’all! While I used to think this practice was barf-inducing, I’ve since come around after working as a birth doula and hearing the benefits from midwives and women who have done it. For example, it’s believed that eating the placenta can prevent postpartum depression, and improve mood, energy and milk supply. With that said, I would totally have my placenta encapsulated, but don’t think I could stomach frying that sucker up. But to each her own!
This is also practiced in many parts of China, Jamaica and India.
Enduring the Pain
Many Japanese women forgo painkillers during birth, as it’s believed enduring the pain helps them prepare for the challenges of motherhood. I see their point.
In a festival-like setting in Northern Spain, babies are lain in a row on the ground (in their Dock-a-tot like mini-beds) and a man dressed as the devil jumps over them to cleanse their souls.
To celebrate the arrival of a new baby, the maternity home care nurse Dutch women receive support from the first week after their baby’s birth bakes “biscuits with mice” to celebrate the occasion. The rodent biscuits are actually cookies covered with candied anise seeds (they have a liquorice-like flavor), as anise is a symbol of fertility and can improve lactation.
The German government attempts to prevent babies from being stuck with weird names (here’s looking at you Hollywood parents) by having certain guidelines parents need to follow when selecting a first name. For example, the gender of the child should be able to be discerned from the name (if it’s androgynous, a second, gender-identifying name needs to be added), the name can’t be too wild, and last names, or names of objects are not permitted.
Wedding Cake Blessing
Irish couples typically have an Irish Whiskey Cake at their wedding, as it’s believed to be a “fertility cake” that ups their chances of starting a family pronto. The top tier of the cake is then saved for their future baby’s christening. During that christening, the cake is served to guests, and crumbs are sprinkled on the baby’s forehead as a wish for a long, prosperous life, and some Irish luck.
Gifts for Visitors
As gift giving is such a huge part of the Brazilian culture, it’s customary for the new mom to have a set of pre-purchased gifts, like candies or small souvenirs, to give those who come to visit the baby.