Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Traditions Around the World

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Globally-minded, expectant parents learn how pregnancy, childbirth and babyhood is celebrated around the world in On Becoming a Mother. This book, by award-winning journalist and filmmaker Brigid McConville, is filled with reflections of real-life pregnancies, birth experiences and babyhood traditions from Bangladesh to Uganda to Spain, and a multitude of places in between. Mothers-to-be who love learning about other cultures will enjoy arm-chair traveling around the globe while their bellies grow. The book is divided into four sections: Before Birth, Time for Birth, After Birth and The “First” Year. Here’s a look at pregnancy, birth and baby traditions around the world according to On Becoming a Mother.

Pregnancy traditions around the world

My pregnancy tradition: documenting my pregnant belly’s growth each month

Before Birth

Pregnancy is universal, but the traditions vary greatly from culture to culture. Readers learn that pregnancies aren’t announced formally in Bangladesh until the seventh month of development. According to Shabnam Shahnaz, a Bangledeshi, “Our belief is that by this time the baby is strong and will survive any sort of ‘evil eye’; it’s also scientifically true that by this time a baby is viable and can often survive on its own if the mother gives birth early.” I imagine many neighbors and friends have a serious hunch that someone is expecting long before the announcement since hiding a burgeoning belly by month seven could prove difficult. Meanwhile, I could barely keep either of my pregnancies a secret for the standard American 12-week tradition—I was too excited to keep the good news to myself!

My husband attended both of my births but in many cultures, women are surrounded by other women during childbirth

My husband attended both of my children’s births but in many cultures, women are surrounded by other women during childbirth

Time for Birth

I just love this sweet birth story told in the Time for Birth section of the book by a midwife, Suzanne Stalls, about a Mexican woman who gave birth in New Mexico. Stalls said, “A lively, funny person by nature, she walked and walked around the room quite seriously, until she was ready to give birth. With every contraction, she would put her arms around her husband, hugging him so tightly, and she would murmur endearments in his ear: ‘Mi querida, mi amor, mi vida (My dear, my love, my life.)

It was such an incredible display of love that I almost felt as if I should leave the room, almost as if they were making love. He was clearly her anchor; she needed him and he was entirely there for her, as absorbed in her as she was in him.”

After Birth

One intriguing post-birth tradition discussed in On Becoming a Mother takes place in Vietnam, where babies are sometimes given a repulsive name for their first month of life, like “rat” or “ugly.” This is because an attractive name may entice evil spirits to come steal the infant. A half Vietnamese grandmother explained in the book, “We believe in waiting until 30 days after the birth for any celebrations. In our tradition, we believe that the unborn child has a guardian angel, who is the previous mother of the child. If we celebrate the pregnancy publicly, the spirit of the previous parent might come and reclaim her child – so that the new mother loses her baby!”

Baby's first year traditions around the world

The “First” Year

In On Becoming a Mother, we learn that traditions during a baby’s first year often involve protecting the child from harm and preparing him or her for the future. Instead of throwing a big party, my husband and I made it a tradition to celebrate our babies’ first birthdays at Disneyland (as show in the photo above)—I guess we were prepping them for a life filled with fun!

Tedak siten is a traditional and elaborate Javanese celebration that takes in Indonesia when a baby first walks, which marks the moment when a child first connects with Earth. In northern Spain, babies are placed on mattresses for El Salto del Colacho (meaning the Devil’s Jump), during which someone dressed as El Colacho (the devil) jumps over the babies to cleanse their souls. In Albania, garlic is sometimes be placed under the baby’s crib to protect from the ‘evil eye’. Meanwhile, in Korea, Dol is a celebration of a child’s first 100 days of life, during which various objects are placed within the baby’s reach; whichever item is selected is supposed to foretell the child’s future. For example, if a coin is chosen, a life of wealth should follow, while if a pencil is grabbed up by that chubby baby hand, a life of scholarship is predicted.

On Becoming a Mother book - Pregnancy, Birth and Babies Around the World

“On Becoming a Mother” details pregnancy, birth and baby traditions around the world

Why buy On Becoming a Mother

I remember voraciously reading every pregnancy book I could get my hands on when I was pregnant with my first child. After my eldest was born, I began devouring baby book after baby book…from advice-driven books on getting the baby to sleep through the night and nutritional guides on developing healthy-eating habits in my little one, to humorous tales about the joys and miseries of early motherhood. This appetite to learn all I could about babies and parenting was what inspired me to write my own book, The Travel Mamas’ Guide on how to vacation with babies and children…and stay sane! When I looked for a book to help me prepare for our first trip with a baby and couldn’t find what I wanted, I decided to write the book myself.

I have no desire to deal with the plentiful discomforts of pregnancy ever again, however, I did begin to long for that feeling of specialness that is reserved for brides and expectant moms. Story after story reminded me of how special it felt to be pregnant, growing a precious baby within my own body, and how gently and sweetly others treated me as a mom-to-be. Although On Becoming a Mother rambles a bit from story to story (and the menagerie of fonts and graphics can become tiresome), moms can pick and choose which stories appeal to them and skip the others.

On Becoming a Mother would make a lovely Mother’s Day or baby shower gift for a travel-loving mama. This is the kind of book a mom-to-be will want to flip through as she delights in first kicks and ultrasounds, imagining and planning for the birth of her child.

Proceeds from the book support the White Ribbon Alliance, a non-profit organization that strives to uphold the right for all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after childbirth. Buy a copy of On Becoming a Mother now!

What traditions does your family practice related to pregnancy or welcoming a baby to the world? Let us know in the comments below! 

A Note from The Travel Mama: I received a copy of On Becoming a Mother for purposes of this review. I will donate the book to a local charity. I did not receive any sort of compensation related to this post. All opinions are mine, as always.

All photos by Colleen Lanin. 

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. http://Jenna says

    Interesting to hear about baby traditions around the world! As an ESL teacher, I’ve heard about many of them from my students. The universal is that babies are the pride and joy of all parents, no matter the culture. 🙂

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