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New moms face handfuls of decisions while pregnant. The choices don't stop there, however. The variety of paths available to families parenting for the first, second, or 20th time are immeasurable. Yet, one thing is there to help guide the way. A family's and society's traditions can influence the way a woman chooses to parent her child. While there are times this can feel limiting or old fashioned, there are other times that the traditional way can be beautiful.
Below are several traditions that have held on despite the passing of years. They come from all over. Some may seem very familiar while others may seem outlandish to those of us who grew up firmly entrenched in American values. If we look closely, we can see they're all beautiful.
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The Venda tribe from South Africa have a pretty unique way of raising children. In this tribe, whose lands were protected during apartheid and therefore the traditional culture left mostly untouched, mothers don't stop working at the birth of a baby. Instead, the whole family chips in. Aunts, uncles, and especially grandmothers are expected to take up the mantle of child rearing. Because most women live alongside their husbands' family, a majority of the caretakers are paternal relatives. Kids call these extra helpers 'mom' and 'dad,' too. It's both a sign of respect and acknowledgement that the children belong to the whole kin group.
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In Holland, mommies don't go home alone. Instead, for 8-10 days postnatal, a nurse lives with the new family to help with things like baby care, laundry, and assisting with any other kids in the home. The tradition is called 'Kraamzorg.' Also, these nurses are trained to teach parents to use baby massage to calm a crying infant and can make breakfast for the tired, breastfeeding mother. Talk about amazing customer service! If you're interested and want to learn more about how this works in Holland, visit this site. Holland is also the European country that boasts the most home births per capita. It is believed that a quarter of women choose to and then successfully labor and deliver all at home.
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In traditional Samoan culture, the well being of the baby is considered inherently attached to the health of the placenta. The connection isn't just literal but mystical. Therefore, healthcare officials in Queensland, Australia have been trained to offer the placenta to the new parents post delivery. What happens then? Either close relatives take it and bury it close to the family home or the afterbirth is thrown into the ocean. Until this happens, parents believe the newborn is at risk of spiritual harm. Once this is successfully done, it is believed that the child, should he/she wander far away in adulthood, will always return to the comfort of home. Therefore, the placenta represents the idea of attachment.
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The Niue people from New Zealand have many comparable traditions to the Samoans. The burying of the placenta is one, although the duty is not considered optional. Think of this grandmother who, "has buried the placentas of her 30 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren under her apple tree. She will never move from that house because of that. This is symbolic of returning the baby’s home in utero to the earth and a remembrance of our beginning," according to spasifikmag. Later, when these infants are grown, girls go through a special rite involving having their ears pierced. Boys have their hair cut in an elaborate ritual that involves feasting for both genders.
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The Mundan ceremony is a very important milestone in a Hindu baby's life. This ceremony has to be completed before a child's third birthday. It typically takes place at a temple. It's essentially a child's first haircut. Significance is placed on this event because Hindus believe in reincarnation, a cycle of past lives that can affect the current one. Cutting a child's hair is symbolic of cleansing the baby of any lingering negativity from said former lives. One lock can be left toward the front of a baby's head as a way to help the kiddo retain good memories.
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In Turkey new moms are given a drink called Lohusa Şerbeti. It's believed this sweet drink helps build a mama's milk supply in the days after baby's birth. She's given it first in the hospital, and then both she and any guests that visit her in her confinement period are served it. This period, called 'laying in' by some cultures and confinement by others, is supposed to last for 40 days. During that time a mom can accept visitors. Nevertheless, she and baby aren't supposed to go out. The water based serbeti contains cloves, lohusa sugar, and cinnamon. Sounds delicious! Here in the US, this Mommyish article says that many moms resort to Mother's Milk Tea.
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In Germany, births are still presided over by midwives. They do it all. In the hospital, the midwife helps Mom decide between going without pain meds or calling for medical assistance. She does acupuncture. She does massages. It's not unheard of for the midwife to practice essential oil therapy. The doctor only gets involved if there's a serious complication that may require an intervention like surgery. When we say she does it all, we mean all. There are no nurses in most delivery wings. A mom isn't passed to nursing care until she enters recovery. These traditions are gaining steam in America. In Germany, they've been firmly in place for generations.
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A newborn Hopi baby leaves the dark environment of the womb to enter the purposefully darkened home. For twenty days, the newborn stays in the dark. Why? The Hopi people believe the child is still under the protection of his/her universal parents during this time. It's sort of a spiritual transition phase where, in the dark, the child acclimates to the world around him/her. When the twenty days are done, the child is taken outside by the mother and grandmother and introduced to the Sun deity, Tawa. Afterward, the child is greeted by all it's female relatives in the light.
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In the South Asian country of Laos, there's a special ceremony held at transitional times. It's the Baci. During this ceremony, usually presided over by an elder or a Buddhist monk, a white string is tied around a new mother's and infant's wrist for every guest that wishes her well. The ceremony is also used to tie in good luck, securing it with a wrist full of string bracelets. Afterward, Mom is encouraged to leave the strings on for at least three days. This way, the good wishes are more likely to come true. The whole thing takes place around a marigold pyramid, with the beautiful orange flowers used as a draping structure for the white ceremonial string. And every sleep deprived, barely showered new mama out there can use all the well wishes she can get.
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Have you heard of the tradition where a newly married couple saves the top tier of their wedding cake for their first anniversary? Well, an even older one originated in Ireland. There, 'Irish Whiskey Cake' is the dessert we're talking about. The whiskey is used as a way to preserve a couple's highest tier on their wedding cake to be cut and shared upon the Christening of their first child. Recently, this tradition has received an addition. Now, along with the whiskey cake, a bottle of champagne is saved from the couple's wedding reception. This too is opened upon the baby's religious milestone. It's called 'wetting the baby's head.'
Armenian parents celebrate 'Agra Hadig.' This takes place once a child cuts their first tooth. When this happens, parents prop a baby up and surround the child with a selection of objects. Stethoscope. Calculator. Hammer toy. Paint brush. The options are endless. The choices are typically limited to five, and whatever the baby handles first is supposed to tell what the future holds for him/her. Is she going to be an artist, reaching for the paint brush? Will he be a banker since he chose the dollar bill? After the baby makes the pivotal choice, the family generally throws a party with a big meal to celebrate the milestone.
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In Bali, for between 100 to 200 days, a baby's tiny feet may not make contact with the ground. This is because many of the Balinese believe that babies are divine entities still and could be the reincarnation of a lost relative. They're simply too holy to walk on Earth. Experts have also theorized that this custom came from a high rate of infant mortality in Bali. Keeping fragile newborns off the ground could be a form of hygienic safety. A special ceremony is held once the baby reaches the peak age of the limitations. Then, the child is seen as fully realized in the mortal world.
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Religious rituals play an important part in child rearing for many families. Think Catholic baptism, a Jewish bris, or a Hindu mundan. For members of the Muslim faith, the first words a baby hears are incredibly meaningful. Therefore, it is a father's duty to whisper the adhan into the right ear of a baby upon birth. These are the same words that issue forth from mosques to call the faithful to prayer. Part of the calling, translated, is, "Rise up for salvation." It's amazing to think that generations stretching back centuries have heard this phrase, uttered lovingly by a father, as their first words.
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In Bangladesh newborns are commonly gifted with amulets. Within these amulets can be a multitude of things. Certain flowers. A cut of the umbilical cord. Specific herbs. These contents are believed to help ward the baby of evil spirits. Again, Bangladesh is a country with a high neonatal fatality rate. Thus, parents do everything they can to safeguard their babies and have specific rituals for many instances. There's a special way to pierce a baby's ear if the child before them died in infancy. If the baby is colicky, its amulet may be taken and dipped in water. Each action has meaning and a spiritual reason.
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In Spain, it's typical to get four months off of work after delivering a baby. If a mama doesn't take additional time off, she is granted something called 'la hora de lactancia,' which means everyday she gets an hour to go home and breastfeed her baby. It doesn't just have to be mom, either. Dad can also take his 'feeding hour,' which is separate from a lunch break. We're a bit jealous. Not only is time off to recover and bond as a family guaranteed, but time off to be comfortably breastfeeding at home and still bonding sounds like heaven. Even mamas lucky enough to be granted six weeks of maternity leave here in the States know that a month and a half is no where near long enough.
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Giving birth in the United Arab Emirates is a high class experience (as long as you have health insurance). Mothers there can opt to give birth in VIP suites, and those rooms rival anything available to a Kardashian or even a royal. Bedside blowout before accepting visitors? Check. Webcam live-streaming in baby's crib for long distance relatives? Check. Nearly instantaneous newborn photos? Check. Some women have compared their birthing suites in this predominantly Muslim country to resort stays at five star hotels. And yes, there's even a mini fridge in many of the rooms. The care is also totally female-provided, so within the maternity wards it is women pampering women as they walk those first steps into motherhood.
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In many Latin cultures, children can be seen wearing red or gold bracelets and necklaces. These pieces of jewelry usually have red coral beads on them and often the image of a fisted hand. This is called the azabache. It's given to babies, frequently by godparents, as a gift to ward off the 'mal de oro,' or evil eye. It is believed that babies are so precious, and their parents so lucky, that other people can have resentful feelings. These pieces of jewelry ward the child from those bad vibes. We have a question. Does it work for adults, too? If it does, I think we all may find use for the azabache.
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In some Jewish communities, mothers are encouraged to visit the mikveh when they reach the nine month mark of their pregnancies. The mikveh is a ritual bath, a way to cleanse both the body and the spirit. One poster over at BabyCenter said of her experience, "I went to the mikveh in the start of my ninth month of pregnancy with my daughter. It was a great, introspective, quiet, emotional moment for me. I want to do it again this time." There're other traditions around this maternal soak as well. The attendant of the mikveh will often schedule a woman who is trying but struggling to conceive to use the mikveh directly following a heavily pregnant woman. It is believed to help bless the hopeful woman with a pregnancy.
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In Iran, a shower for the mother doesn't happen until 10 days post labor and delivery. There's a party involved, sure, but there's an actual shower that needs to happen first. After mom is cleaned with hot water, she's also given a special massage with herbs, a facial, and is painted with henna. Once the mother is clean and pampered, the baby is given its first bath. This is why some moms opt to wait the ten days or until the umbilical stump falls off. After all this, the mother is allowed to receive family and friends for a meal, and her guests bring the baby gifts. Traditionally, close relatives give the baby items made of gold.
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In Malta, brides are encouraged to pray for rain on their wedding day. Why? It is believed that brides who get rained on will have an easy first delivery when the time comes. The Maltese are not alone in this particular belief. Lots of cultures believe that rain is a symbol of fertility. The Italians have a saying, "Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata." It roughly translates into saying that a soaked bride is a lucky one. Other cultures hold the belief that the more rain that pours, the more fertile the wedded couple will be. Okay, so while we may classify this as an old wive's tale, who wouldn't do nearly anything to try to ensure an easy labor?