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Birth Outside Our Backyard, Part II: Strange?

At Welcome Baby Care we’re always striving to determine and develop best practices for serving and providing for women in the post-birth season. But we realize that the way we ‘do birth’ in the U.S. isn’t the only way and many times not even the best way. We are continually fascinated by the customs and traditions of non-U.S. countries and cultures. We ask: What can we learn from the ways many developing nations care for their new moms and babies? This week we’ll be taking a look at some birth wisdom that comes from outside of our own backyard. Do you have experience with non-U.S. birth models and traditions? Share in the comments!

Strange Reasons, But Not Completely Strange by Jen Wittes

Some pregnancy, birth, and postpartum traditions from other cultures may seem strange and superstitious, but underneath the ritual and folklore are roots in common sense and sound medical advice.  Check it out:

-In Mexico, a pregnant or postpartum woman must avoid things death-related, including funerals.  No cemeteries, no funerals, no burials.  The superstition, popular amongst many cultures, is that exposure to death will bring about the death of the baby.  Of course, this notion has little scientific footing, but the practice—in my opinion—isn’t completely crazy.  Studies have shown that Cortisol, the stress hormone, can negatively affect the baby and that depressed or sad mothers transfer their emotions to the child.  Besides that, it seems appropriate to be tender with a woman carrying and caring for new life.  She possesses an extraordinary sensitivity under the influence of her new and expanding collection of feelings and responsibilities.  If she must go to a funeral to process and grieve, of course she should go.  But if sitting it out feels right, I can see why.

-In Ghana, a woman is instructed to cross her legs in the postpartum period; for fear that a wandering draft of air will enter, resulting in bleeding and/or a permanently fat abdomen.  Air is hardly that evil, but some women—even here in America—choose to heal the rips and tears of childbirth not with stitches, but by keeping their legs closed during the postpartum recovery.  As for the bleeding, we do know that overexertion, moving around, and too much action in the pelvic region can lead to an increase in lochia (post-birth bleeding).  As for the fat abdomen?  Well, we know that rest and respect for everything waist-down helps with involution, or the return of the uterus to the pre-pregnant size. Both the uterine and abdominal muscles must rest and recover in order to eventually get back in shape.

-In Bali, a newborn’s feet do not touch the ground for 105 days.  She is continuously passed from family member to family member, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor.  On the 105th day, there is a ceremony and the baby touches the ground for the first time.  It is seen as a return to the earth.  Before this point, the child is considered a divine creature.  There are many helpers for this event, and all of them must be exorcised, lest they harm the baby in transition from the heavenly to the mortal.  While all of this may seem, to some, religious superstition, I believe that it supports the importance of bonding.  It is a time of touch and togetherness and unyielding focus on the new baby.

-The Navajo women are expected to breastfeed, so that their child will not take on the nature of the animal by taking in its meat or by-products.  Roots, again, in myth and superstition, but many doctors and supporters of breastfeeding feel that a newborn, free of teeth and with immature digestive system, cannot yet handle food from animals.

-Mexico, Greece, India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, and many more places around the world emphasize the 40 day period of lying-in.  A new mother would not dream of disobeying her confinement.  There may be some superstition and worry sprinkled in various corners of this practice, but for the most part, it is in place for rest, recovery, transition, and bonding.  Nothing strange about that!

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