Pregnancy and birth around the world

More than 350,000 babies are born every day. Discover how different cultures embrace the unique wonder of birth.

There are thousands of wonderfully diverse cultures around the world, separated by differences in language, religion, philosophy, and perspective. However, there is one thing that unifies them— the single act of giving birth and bringing new life into this world. And while attitudes and customs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth differ wildly across the globe, there is no doubt that there is a huge amount to be learned from each other’s knowledge and experience.

All women feel an increased need to protect themselves (and their growing baby) during pregnancy, by trying to avoid stress and guard against unnecessary risk. Yet the lengths to which different women will go to achieve this vary hugely. Some women in Central America, particularly those of Mayan descent, are so fearful of exposure to disease, evil spirits, and even the ill will of others that they may spend the whole nine months at home. In some Asian countries, it is strongly believed that a woman’s mental state during her pregnancy can influence the personality of the unborn child, and so pregnant women avoid funerals, sex, fits of temper, and even gossiping. At the other end of the spectrum there are many women, such as those in Ethiopia, who find it more reassuring to view pregnancy as a natural part of life so they don’t make many changes in their daily routine.

Giving birth is a primal and instinctive act, but in many countries it is also governed by ancient customs intended to facilitate the process. Indian mothers, for instance, wear their hair down and remove jewelry and head coverings in order to abandon constraint and embrace the natural process of labor; all doors and windows in the house are opened to symbolically encourage an easy passage for the baby.

In Morocco, women are treated to tummy rubs with oil and herbal infusions to alleviate pain. Guatemalan women drink beer in which a purple onion has been boiled in order to speed up delivery, while some Native Americans use blue cohosh root, because it is believed to encourage uterine contractions.

parent waves : birth around the world

In some cultures, birth is considered to be highly sacred. For example, while the placenta and umbilical cord are often regarded as mere by-products of birth, in many communities they are viewed as potent forces, with the power to influence the baby’s future. In Japan, the umbilical cord is cleaned and put in a special box in the belief that it will promote a strong mother–child relationship. In Mali, the placenta is believed to be closely connected to the baby’s welfare, and after the birth is cleaned and placed in a basket that the baby’s father will then bury.

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