Global birthing rituals
Journey around the world with us this Spring as we share birthing traditions from around the globe ..
The Middle East ..
The flower of Maryam (anastatica hierochuntica) is a small dry shrub resembling a gathering of twigs. The flower can be found across North Africa, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Amongst its most popular medicinal uses, is its application to childbirth.
Traditionally the midwife or family member caring for the labouring woman, will place this flower into a small bowl of warm water in the birthing room and the flower will gradually fully blossom and open - just like the cervix allowing for birth.
Whether its medicinal properties encourage dilatation, or if it's a powerful visualisation tool for mothers, the flower of Maryam has been used for hundreds of years.
In shrines and temples of Japan, you'll find omamori, or amulets of all kinds. Omamori translates into 'something that protects' and essentially these are good luck charms for health, wealth, love, safety and education.
An estimated 90% of pregnant women are thought to carry an omamori of some kind and traditionally a woman in her 5th month of pregnancy will go to a temple or shrine with friends and family to pray for a safe pregnancy and birth. This tradition is known as Obiiwai. A belly wrap or maternity belt may be placed around the woman's bump thought to both spiritually protect and physically help support the growing abdomen and make her aware to move more gently.
The ceremony is thought to be further strengthened if performed on 'Dog Day'. This day is a particular day or days within a calendar month in Japan and, as the symbol of fertility and childbirth is a dog, the tradition of Obiiwai performed on this day is thought to bring extra protection to both mother and baby.
Enchanting New Zealand
The honouring of the placenta ..
The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, who's culture and traditions are still a central part of life today.
The placenta or 'whenua', is very sacred in the Maori culture and it is custom for it to be buried at a place of cultural significance or on ancestral land. The Maori people believe that humans come from the Earth Mother 'papatuanuku', so returning the whenua to the land is a sign of respect and thanks.
This custom is not unique to New Zealand however, with many cultures around the globe also honouring the placenta by ways of burial to symbolise the baby's link to the earth - with some choosing to plant a tree over the burial site.
In Bali, the placenta is called 'Ari-Ari' and is considered to be the physical body of the baby's guardian angel. It is wrapped in cloth, placed within a coconut and buried.
These customs have inspired many families today to create their own meaningful placenta burial rituals.
The Simplicity of the Finnish Baby Box - an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women.
The tradition of the gifted baby box filled with baby clothes, muslin squares, toys and even condoms, has dated back for 75years when Finland sought to rectify their high infant mortality rates. Once emptied, the box that also comes with a mattress can be used as a crib - giving all babies a safe space to sleep and an equal start in life.
The boxes are credited with keeping infant mortality rates low, and today Finland has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. Not only does the box provide a safe sleeping space for babies being laid on a flat, firm mattress helping to reduce SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) rates, but the box is provided in return for antenatal care and filled with baby clothes that can be used from birth onwards.
Lately, the boxes have been seen in countries far from Finland, with experts seeing the boxes as a way to reduce the SIDS rates. You may have even be offered one of these within the UK. The boxes however are far reaching in their messages of equality and the importance of investing in children, both in the receiving of good antenatal care in pregnancy and to having a safe, loving start to life.
A post birth Latin American tradition that dates back to biblical times ..
Women are encouraged to spend the first 40 days of the post birth period at home in a type of quarantine, also known as la cuarentena.
The families that honor la cuarentena believe that after birth, a woman's body is open and vulnerable to illness. La Cuarentena allows for a period of time and protection for the birthing mother to 'close' and gain strength whilst encouraging bonding and feeding of the newborn.
Traditional versus Modern la cuarentena
Traditional cuarentena culture not only encourages a 6 week post birth quarantine, but includes avoiding cold showers, drinking hot soups, abstaining from sex, and binding of the abdomen with a faja (girdle). Whilst some of these rituals have faded over time, the encouragement for a modern style la cuarentena remain with a strong message to new mums to rest, recover and focus on breastfeeding. Women in their communities as well as family and friends can play a pivotal role by helping with housekeeping and in the giving of home cooked foods to provide nutrition and aide recovery.
Similar traditions are also observed in central and far east Asia and increasing popularity is given in general society to the concept of a post birth 'Baby Moon' - an ideology that echo's the theme of being supported to pause life to focus on this very special transitional time in life.