Are you curious about how people from other countries experience childbirth? With the world becoming more open and accessible, it's worth taking a step back and exploring the ancient customs, traditions and rituals around birth that are practiced elsewhere. These stories will captivate you with their insights into the labor and delivery process in different countries. We compiled some of these stories. So, read on to discover global birth traditions that will broaden your perspective on the many ways people embrace birth around the world.
What Makes the Birthing Experience Unique?
The birthing experience has been around since time immemorial, but each culture and region brings something special that makes this special moment its own. From the spread of the teachings of ancient midwives in India and Africa to the practice of women-only delivery rooms in Japan, there’s a fascinating abundance of stories to tell. For instance, Swedish mothers receive a "baby box" or maternity package, a gift-wrapped package containing essential baby items which is given free of charge by their government to promote infant health.
Birth rituals come with various sets of customs: ways for mothers to prepare for labor with traditional foods or herbs, songs and rituals connected with pregnancy and childbirth, midwives' medical advice, and even superstitions about how to protect babies from danger!
Birth Traditions in the Middle East
The birthing experience in the Middle East is often strongly tied to beliefs and culture. Birth traditions in this region are both unique and captivating, offering a window into a world where a baby's birth is celebrated with gifts for the newborn and the new mom, a special Dua (prayer), a Islamic birth ritual called Tahneek, and many more.
In many ways, birth is seen as a rite of passage in the Middle East. Coptic and Muslim families of all social classes and regions in Egypt celebrate a birth ritual called el-sebou', meaning "the seventh," on the seventh day after the birth of a child.
Women giving birth in the urban side of Morocco are no longer giving birth at home, and opt for hospital births instead. But in the rural areas, you can still expect mamas to give birth at home. From the moment they become pregnant, moms are well-cared for in this side of Morocco. In fact, it’s important that their cravings are satisfied. An expectant mother in Morocco benefits from the goodwill of her community since she never goes hungry. The pregnant woman's mother comes to be with her during the final week of her pregnancy. She promised to look after her and the baby till the Aqiqah celebration.
Birth Customs in South Asia
Have you ever thought about the different birth customs in Asia? South Asia has a huge array of interesting and captivating birth traditions that might surprise you.
Take India, for example. The traditional rituals begin even before the infant is born and can last for as long as a year after they’re born. The prenatal bangles ritual, or valaikaapu, takes place in the seventh month of the first pregnancy. Hindu birth traditions like naming ceremonies involve priests chanting mantras over the baby when they are two weeks old to ensure that the newborn is protected from evil spirits. In Bangladesh, Muslim families often hold a Quran Khawni ceremony (recitation of the Holy Qur’an).
In Buddhist culture, households in Sri Lanka practice a ritual called Namakaranam. The newborn is given a bath and dressed in clean clothes. The parents then reveal the child's formal name. The naming ceremony also marks the beginning of a child's acceptance and socialization into their community.
Celebrating Birth in South America
In many Indigenous South American cultures, birth is seen as a ceremony to celebrate new life and welcome it into the world.
Postpartum rituals are essential to the wellness of the new mother and baby. They help foster a healing environment and provide protection against ill health. These rituals typically involve burning sage or herbs, eating special foods, and yes, even staying away from other people for several days after giving birth.
Burying the Placenta
The placenta, in Mapuche belief, contains the child's spiritual twin. It is believed that by burying it with a tree that will grow as the child does, a connection will be made between the child and the natural elements of the family's territory for the rest of their lives.
Birth Experiences in North America
In North America, birthing is a very special event. Throughout the continent, women require family members and elders to offer spiritual and physical support during and after the birth.
In the midwest plains, Native American tribes celebrate a woman's pregnancy with pre-birth blessings. This ceremony usually involves a female elder offering prayers and support to the expectant mother, her partner, and their baby.
Once the baby is born, many Native American tribes have post-birth ceremonies to honor their newest members. At these events, tribal elders bless both mother and baby with prayers of protection and pledge to teach them all they need to know about their culture's traditions.
Babies are treated with great respect in Mexican culture. Similarly, newborns are the primary focus of the cuarentena phase. Mal de ojo, a cultural concept held for centuries, is the major motivation of such traditions. It is believed that the baby will become unwell if it is the subject of much praise from others, particularly those outside the immediate family. Thus, the reason for cuarentena or quarantine.
Because of this, no public celebrations are held in the child's honor; nonetheless, many families choose to hold a baptism as a way to express their gratitude to God for this precious gift. Breastmilk is thought to be seen as unclean and harmful in Mexico. Infants are often fed only formula for the first two to three months of their lives.
African Birth Stories and Rites of Passage
In African societies, birth is seen as a milestone; a chance for the newborn to become part of the community. Here are some of the most intriguing African birth stories and rites of passage:
One week after the birth, friends and family assemble at the home of the new parents for a naming ritual known as the ngente. The parents are honored with gifts and a meal of lakh.
Baby girls would get their ears pierced and the baby boys had their circumcisions performed during the Outdooring. The Outdooring is a symbolic ceremonial and celebration of birth that includes naming, circumcision, and ear piercing and occurs a few days after birth.
On the eighth day after birth, a baby is given a name by the Yoruba. The ritual is carried out by the eldest member of the family at the paternal grandparent's house. The elder uses honey, sugar, kola nut, alligator pepper, water, palm oil, sugar, sugarcane, salt, and liquor to bless the newborn.
The birth stories of cultures around the world are an opportunity to expand our own understanding of childbirth and to embrace our own unique birthing customs. Learning about other cultures’ birth traditions can give us a greater appreciation of the significance of the experience, no matter where in the world we happen to be.
Born and raised in Ghana and very familiar with the outdooring tradition (my parents had outdoorings for all my siblings and me), I’d like to point out some inaccuracies in the post.
There is no such practice as boys getting their ears pierced during their outdooring ceremonies in Ghana, not in the past 3- 4 generations. I understand if it is a typo, as this may be true of females. The circumcision bit may be generations ago, as it’s nonetheless not current – my brother and I (both over 30 years old), and my dad (over 60), were circumcised at a health clinic.
Nevertheless, to provide some more context: my grandfather, my dad, his 3 brothers, several uncles, and thousands of men I know in Ghana did not go through the practice described in this blog post, be it circumcision or ear piercings at their outdoorings.
Ghana has several tribes and ethnic groups – none of which resonate with this claim, as far as baby boys are concerned. Till recently, it was culturally frowned upon for males to pierce their ears / or wear earrings, for that matter, in Ghana.
Outdoorings were performed usually seven days after the child was born, and similar to the Nigerians, the child was given a taste of water and alcohol (salty water in some cases) to symbolise understanding the difference between right and wrong. The child would also be publicly named at this ceremony, and relatives and friends would present gifts to the child and parents.
Also, currently in Ghana, circumcision and ear piercing is actually done at the hospitals for obvious health / hygienic reasons for babies.
I appreciate the insights you want to bring to birthing at a global level. However, it would be helpful if a little bit more current research is done and sources were cited as well.