Birth is one thing that all human beings share in common, although our birth experiences are all unique. Birth practices, traditions and rituals are all greatly influenced by the society and culture in which we live. There are many birth rituals around the world that are intriguing!
Things that may be completely ‘normal’ in Mexico (for example) may seem strange to those living in Australia. The differences in birth practices in developed countries can, surprisingly, also be startlingly big. For example, around half of all women in Brazil give birth via c-section. In some private hospitals, the rate of c-sections can be as high as 80 percent. In the Netherlands, this number is much closer to 10 percent, which is the rate recommended by the World Health Organization.
It’s not just hospital practices that affect birth across the world – culture and tradition play a significant role. In the US, where pain medication is accepted as a normal part of birth, over half of all women have epidurals during labour. This contrasts with Japan where many women labour without pain relief. There is a traditional Japanese belief that labour pains help to prepare women for motherhood, and that labour pains should be endured.
Birth Rituals Around The World
Here are 10 fascinating modern and ancient birth rituals from around the world that show us just how amazing and diverse birth really is:
Birth Ritual #1: Mexico
The rebozo is a traditional Mexican shawl, which is four or five feet long and made from woven material. Rebozo is a traditional Mexican craft that has been passed down through generations, and it can be used in many ways. As well as making a fetching head scarf, the rebozo was traditionally used during birth. It can be useful during labour, with birth partners using the rebozo to help support the weight of the labouring woman. It can also be used for a technique known as ‘sifting’ which is thought to relax the pelvic muscles during labour, helping the birth to progress. The rebozo is slowly making it's way into birthing rooms around the world.
Birth Ritual #2: Togo
In this West African country, superstition dictates that labouring women should keep their noise at a minimum. Shouting and loud noises is believed to attract evil spirits, and so women are encouraged to stay as silent as possible during the birth.
Birth Ritual #3: Inuit
In traditional Inuit culture, most women received support from a midwife figure during childbirth. The midwives were local women who had gained experience by attending many births. In Inuit culture, birth is traditionally a calm and relatively peaceful affair. In fact, Inuit midwives used to whisper all of their directions to the labouring women.
Birth Ritual #4: Comanche
The Comanche tribe are an indigenous peoples who once lived in a place known as Comancheria. That land is now split between a number of US states including New Mexico and Colorado. The Comanche are now headquartered in Oklahoma. Traditionally, Comanche women would squat over hot stones during labour. The pain was believed to provide pain relief, and these is some belief that it may also help to prepare the perineum to stretch.
Birth Ritual #5: Pakistan
The Kanash people in Pakistan believe labouring women are unclean. Because of this, mothers-to-be are expected to leave their homes a few days before the baby is due. She moves to a hut known as a Bashleni which is decorated in paintings of animals. Only menstruating women are allowed to visit the Bashleni and assist the woman during birth.
Birth Ritual #6: India
In Bihar, India, it is traditional for women to drink a glass of water if their labour is not progressing. Not cold, refreshing water, but a glass of water in which the mother-in-law had dipped her toe.
Birth Ritual #7: Holland
Homebirths account for around 20 percent of the births in Holland. This means the country is better setup for accommodating homebirths than some other developed countries, like Australia. Even if you plan to birth your baby in a hospital, it is likely that a midwife will visit your home when you go into labour to provide advice about when you need to arrive at the hospital. To anyone who has ever been turned away from a maternity ward whilst in early labour, this probably sounds like a pretty amazing service.
Birth Ritual #8: Korea
In Korea, it is traditional for the mother-in-law to play an active role during the labour. Traditionally, the father-to-be would stay out of the labour room and instead congregate with other male family members awaiting news of the birth.
Birth Ritual #9: Jamaica
After a birth in Jamaica, the placenta and umbilical cord are saved. A special location is then picked out for these to be buried in the ground. Friends or relatives bring a tree with which to mark the burial spot. The young tree will be used to teach the child about the importance of responsibility. As the child grows he is charged with taking care of the tree.
Birth Ritual #10: Ancient Egypt
In Ancient Egypt, menstrual blood was believed to be a good medicine. Following the birth of a child, the blood would be rubbed onto the baby’s skin to protect him from bad spirits.