Pregnancy customs

Did you know that Chinese women believe that if they eat pale food their baby will be fair-skinned? Or that Orcadians believe a rainbow signifies the birth of a boy? Of all the beliefs from around the world, it seems that Japanese women get the worst deal – read on for some shocking, fun and interesting pregnancy facts!

Chinese women shouldn’t fear labour

According to Chinese custom, a husband should carry his bride over a pan of burning coals when entering his home for the first time to ensure she will have a successful labour! Once pregnant, a woman has to be careful in thoughts and actions as it is believed everything she does and sees will influence her unborn child. Reading beautiful poetry and stories is good but gossiping, laughing loudly and getting annoyed aren’t. (Oh dear.) And sex is absolutely forbidden during pregnancy. (Dear oh dear.)

As for diet, Chinese women have to be more careful than most. There is a belief that if a pregnant woman eats food that’s not properly cut or mashed, her child will have a careless disposition. Or if she eats pale foods, the baby will be fair-skinned.

Pregnant Chinese women should never attend funerals. They should, however, sleep with knives under their bed to ward off evil spirits (more likely to be inconsiderate husbands here). Baby showers are always held after the birth for superstitious reasons. A month before the due date, the maternal grandmother will send a package of clothes to her daughter called
tsue shen, which means hastening delivery. A white cloth inside the package is for wrapping the newborn inside. The maternal grandmother will then wait for three days after the birth of her grandchild to visit, bringing with her clothes and baby equipment!

It is common for Chinese women to drink a strong herbal potion to help ease labour pains. A labouring woman will typically do so in an armchair or futon and, once the baby is born, she will pray to the goddess who helped her conceive, offering her sweet meats and incense.

Post-delivery, there is a well-established postnatal practice called “doing the month” or “sitting month”. During this time, a new mother does not leave the home and can stay in bed the whole time, if she wishes, to rest. Traditionally, she should have an assistant to accompany her during this period – usually the mother-in-law.

A new mother is also encouraged to follow traditional dietary advice and is kept very warm, as it is believed that women enter a “cold phase” because of blood loss during labour and childbirth. Therefore, the new mum must avoid eating cold and raw foods and drinks so  their energy is not further depleted. Family and relatives relieve her of her household chores so she can get all the rest she needs.

Haitians believe body patting gets the maternal figure back in shape

Haitian tradition dictates that new mums must be cared for as much as possible during their postnatal recovery period, with plenty of baths, warmth, warm teas and a period of confinement so the mum can regain her energy after delivery.

For the first days after delivery, a new mum wears long sleeves and keeps her head covered to keep warm. She does not move from the house for at least three days and, to protect herself from draughts, doors and windows are kept shut. It is thought that such a protective environment helps counteract mood swings and baby blues that are common in mums throughout the world.

Part and parcel of postnatal maternal care in Haiti is maternal massage, where the new mum’s body is patted to help it regain its shape. A special diet of warm food and drinks is also given and cold drinks and food, as with Chinese tradition, are omitted.

No gherkins for pregnant women in Japan

The Japanese are definitely not advocators of eating for two in pregnancy, and pregnant women are urged not to put on too much weight. They must also avoid eating spicy or salty food (there go the gherkins) and raw fish and should not, under any circumstances, look at fire or their child will be born with a birthmark!

The worst part of this is that Japanese women are taught to be quiet throughout labour and birth to avoid embarrassment. Since childbirth is viewed as a natural process, they are also told not to take any pain relief.

Get into Latvia’s goddesses’ good books

Latvians believe the Goddess of Fate – Lamia – determines a child’s future the second he’s born. Latvian women also pray to Mara, or Mary, for support in childbirth, as Mara supposedly rules the human body and can make labour either easy or difficult for the mother-to-be. To get into her good books, women will often give the goddess gifts even before they are pregnant.

Nine days after the birth, the baby’s godparents will host a name-giving ceremony at the parent’s home. Forget restricted visiting times, as this ceremony lasts two days! Latvian baby boys normally have two godfathers and one godmother, while girls have two godmothers and one godfather. Relatives normally act as godparents and, since Latvians believe their babies inherit their godparents’ good qualities, they choose someone who’s good to emulate! Godparents are also expected to raise the child if for some reason the natural parents cannot. The godparents also choose the child’s name, so it might be worth finding out their favourites before choosing the godparent!

Why Maltese women pray for rain on their wedding day

Unlike most UK brides, Maltese ones pray for rain – and lots of it – on their wedding day. You may think they’re mad but this is for a good reason … heavy rain on your wedding day means you will have an easy birth with your first child. (I would like to point out here that this DID NOT work for me but perhaps it’s because I am not Maltese…)

So strongly do couples believe in this tradition, that many plan their big day to fall on the days of the stilla, or star, when heavy rains are forecast. The days include Saint Ursula’s Day on October 21, Saint Catherine’s Day on November 23 and Saint Lucy’s Day on December 13. The best months for marriage are January, April and August because they are apparently
the months when both males and females are at their most fertile!

While delivering their babies, many Maltese women hold a St Calogero  statue or pray to St Raymond and St Spiridione for help in childbirth, while St Ludgarda grants an easy delivery. In one Maltese village, pregnant women used to drink water containing powder from the bones of Saint Victor, the protective saint of pregnant women, to ensure a smooth delivery.

The day on which you are born is very important, according to Maltese tradition. A man born on St Mary’s Day in August will become a successful horse racer! And until the end of the 19th century, it was believed that children born on December 24 would turn into a ghost called Gawgaw every year on Christmas Eve, wandering the town until Christmas morning when the child would return to his body. The traditional remedy for this was to stay up and count the holes in a sieve from 11pm on Christmas Eve until Christmas morning.

Fun!

A child’s first birthday is also supposed to be auspicious. An old custom, called quccija, or “choosing”, is performed, whereby children receive a basket filled with objects representing various careers. These include rosary beads, an ink-well, or a book. According to Maltese superstition, the first object the child grabs first foretells the future she will someday lead. Better leave a bottle of wine out of it then!

A rainbow means a baby boy on the Orkney Islands

According to Orcadian tradition, a rainbow could symbolise the imminent birth of a baby boy! The tip of the rainbow should fall at the house where the little boy is about to appear. Apparently, on such rainbow sightings, locals shout, “There’s abrig fur a beuy barin!” (“There’s a bridge for a boy child!”). Quite.

There are many traditions concerning childbirth on the Orkney Islands. Most are a combination of magic and religion, devised to keep both mother and baby safe from supernatural creatures or “trows”. To begin, pregnancy is supposed to be kept secret to protect the unborn baby from the supernatural, and mothers should sleep with knives and a Bible under their bed. More worrying is what happens after the birth, when the knife and Bible are transferred to the baby’s room to carry on protecting the child. (What would health visitors say about that?!) Any women who were present at the baby’s birth should remain at the home for the next few days to keep the evil trows away.

The Orcadians like to celebrate the birth of a child by “Weetin’ the heid of the bairn” (wetting the child’s head). Normally the father will bring out a bottle of whiskey and share it with the other men in the neighbourhood (presumably the women drink tea?), to bring the baby good luck. The celebrations carry on with special feasts. The first is called the “blide-meat”, whereby scones and ale are given to family members and neighbours who come to visit. The “Fittin’ Feast” is for the baby’s family only and marks the mum’s return to her daily household duties (a cause for celebration?!). The final feast is call the “Cirsenin’ Feast” which takes place immediately after the baby’s baptism.

The Orcadians are very keen on baptism and, not so long ago, any child who died before being baptised was not allowed to be buried on holy ground. Male children were always baptised first as, according to tradition, any girl who is baptised before a boy will grow a beard! Consequently, the boy who comes after her will remain beardless. So one of them doesn’t have to shave – just the wrong one.

Portuguese women eat cucumbers if they want a boy

Portuguese women cannot cuddle their favourite furry pet while pregnant because of the superstition that their unborn child could become hairy! While trying to get pregnant, women are encouraged to eat round fruits and vegetables (eg apples and grapes) if they want a girl or long vegetables (eg carrots and cucumbers) if they want a boy.

Once the baby is born, if it cries excessively, it is believed that it has a displaced stomach or a “bucho verado”. The baby will be taken to a natural healer for treatment with oil and prayers, meant to stop pain in the tummy.

No cucumbers for Spanish women

Spanish mums are encouraged to take it easy during pregnancy, as this supposedly produces a chilled-out child. However, they are not allowed cucumbers or spicy food in case they give the foetus the wind.

Apparently, husbands and boyfriends are not allowed in the delivery room as the doctor wants the woman to focus totally on the birth. After delivering, a woman is told to stay inside for 40 days and avoid baths and hair washes – both for her and her child.

Other superstitions include the belief that loud noises can cause the fontanel on the baby’s head to collapse and that a piece of wet paper stuck onto the baby’s forehead will cure hiccups.

British women should stand on their heads after sex

Before you go away laughing at other countries’ pregnancy, labour and parenting myths and customs, have a read about the weird and wonderful things we believe in the UK!

  • That standing on your head after sex can increase your chances of becoming pregnant!
  • The shape and height of your belly can indicate your baby’s sex – women carry boys low and girls high. (Unfortunately this has more to do with muscle and uterine tone than myth, sorry!)
  • Your baby’s heart rate can indicate its sex. Some people think that a faster heartbeat means you’re carrying a girl and a slower one indicates a boy.
  • If you have a round and rosy face when pregnant then you’re carrying a girl!
  • That lots of heartburn during pregnancy will give you a hairy baby.

My mother told me not to put my hands above my head!

When we asked babyworldersit seems that superstitions are as rife today as ever in our community! Many centre around buying or bringing baby equipment home before baby is born but there are one or two more bizarre ones!

“My mother always said that you shouldn’t have the pram in the house until the baby is born, apparently it’s bad luck” Tracy Barker

“I was recently told that to bring the buggy/pram/travel system back to your own home is unlucky. I tried to dismiss it and said to the lady that told me that I wanted to be able to practice with it, so would just bring it home anyway and ignore the old wives’ tale. But she continued to say (would you believe) ‘Well, Natalie what would you do if your baby was born still born, you’d wish you never brought it home then!’ I couldn’t believe she had said that, but of course after that comment I just couldn’t bring it home and it’s now at my mums… Natalie

“My mother kept telling me throughout my pregnancy that I wasn’t supposed to put my arms above my head because it might cause a miscarriage. I kept asking how I was supposed to get glasses cups and out of the kitchen cupboard or dressed in the morning?! Fredi

” My mum, grandmother and great grandmother all bought the baby things before the 7th month, in aid of good luck. But they never actually brought them into the house until 1 week before the baby’s due date, to warn off any bad luck. “Also the homes were full of horse shoes for good luck. My mum is sure it worked for me because I was born on the 7th of February,
and 7 is the number of nails in a horse’s shoe, which makes it lucky.” Jennifer Okane

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