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Most Surprising Postpartum Traditions from Around the World

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Check out the wild ways various cultures treat the arrival of a new baby.

Pinterest image for Most Surprising Postpartum Traditions from Around the World.

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.

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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

Smiling baby with brown hair lying face down on a bed.

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.

Placenta Funeral

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

A flock of sheep on a dry field.

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

Chunks of ice on a beach covered in black pebbles.

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

Baby girl in a light pink onesie being held in her mother's arms.

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!”

Chickens in a pen.