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Emily Bridgewater: Giving birth to new ideas

By Emily Bridgewater | Woman | Published:

Mum-to-be Emily Bridgewater looks at some of the world’s more unusual post-birth rituals. . .

There’s no-one quite like grandma – a first bath given by grandma is the ritual in Nigeria

From turning breast milk into ice cream to downing a placenta smoothie and leaving the umbilical cord attached to your newborn for up to 10 days, post-natal fads come and go. However, labouring and after-birth rituals are nothing new. Here, mum-to-be Emily Bridgewater looks at some of the more unusual practices across the world – and decides whether we should adopt them, or not . . .

  1. In the Indian state of Bihar, it’s ritual for a woman in labour to drink a glass of water. How refreshing, you may think. However, the mother-in-law must first have dipped her toe into the water. We can only hope she doesn’t have a fungal nail infection or a veruca. I think we’ll leave this one where it belongs – 4,700 miles away.
  2. If there’s one time in life when swearing at the top of your lungs is permissible it’s during labour. But if you give birth in Togo, loud noises from a labouring woman are said to attract evil spirits. We’ll leave silent birthing to Togans – oh, and Katie Holmes (who allegedly gave birth to Suri Cruise in complete silence in accordance with Scientology rules).
  3. In the UK it’s becoming fashionable for newborns to be left attached to their umbilical cord, and even placenta, for up to 10 days. Some experts say it allows as many nutrients from the mum to be passed to the baby post-delivery. If you live in Jamaica or Bali there’s a different use for the removed umbilical cord and placenta. Instead, the items are taken to a special place and buried in the ground. Friends or family plant a tree to mark the burial spot, which becomes the responsibility of the child to nurture as they grow up. A nice idea – not sure it’ll take off round here though where kids prefer to nurture technology than trees.
  4. If burying the umblical cord is not for you then how about making jewellery from it? Aborigines make necklaces from the cord for the child to wear, representing growth and aimed at warding off disease. Meanwhile, a tribe in Arizona dries the cord, and places beads on to it so the child can rub or bite it when teething (what’s wrong with Sophie the Giraffe?) I think we’ll stick to Accesorize if we’re after a new necklace.
  5. We’ve heard of women getting ‘push presents’ and we’re probably lobbying for one ourselves but if you’re a new mum in Brazil you’re expected to give gifts to family and friends visiting you and your newborn in hospital. I think we’ll leave this one to the girl from Ipanema.
  6. In Nigeria, the new baby is given its first bath by its grandmother. If she’s not around, then the task is alloted to an aunt or other close relative. This gesture symbolises that the new mum is not alone in bringing up baby, and the community of women will rally around her. This is a ritual we can definitely see the benefits of; new motherhood can be a lonely affair and having the support of others is never a bad thing.
  7. We’ve heard of baby-naming ceremonies but in Pakistan and other Islamic republics, the event is marked with the sacrifice of an animal. During this tradition, which typically takes place on the 7th, 14th or 21st day after the baby is born, the infant’s head is shaved and an animal sacrifice is offered on their behalf. Barbecue, anyone?
  8. Holland is the champion of home-birthing, apparently. About 20 per cent of births in the Netherlands take place in the home compared to six per cent in the UK. The Dutch view birth as a natural part of life as opposed to an illness, which is how some women feel that the medical system tends to treat it in other Western countries. However if, like me, you’ve got light-coloured carpets and brushed leather sofas, birth will most definitely be taking place in a hospital.
  9. Now here’s one ritual which we can get behind. In China, Japan and some Latin American countries, new mums are ‘quarantined’ for up to six weeks. During this time they must focus on themselves and the new baby, with other family members pitching in with the cooking, cleaning and care of any other children. In Japan, for example, the new mum often recovers in her parents’ home, staying in bed. Chores are left to everyone else while the mum and baby bond. Where do we sign up?
Emily Bridgewater

By Emily Bridgewater
Weekend Supplement Editor

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