The Culture of Parenting – A Postnatal Journey of the World
By Carina Glanville
The diversity of postnatal practices throughout the world, offers inspiration and hope that perhaps there are other ways to nurture ourselves and our babies in their early days after birth.
In most cultures mothers are ensured a time of rest and opportunity to connect with her baby. It is a time of celebration and honouring the mother and newborn as the family takes care of them and the household duties. The Bangalore of India pampers the mother at home for 22 days after giving birth. In Vietnam a mother is to have strict bed rest for at least one month with the Grandmother providing full care for the mother and infant. She is not to shower and instead is given sponge baths with added wine for warmth. A Japanese mother often lives at her mother’s house for 20-30 days where all household duties are performed for her. She is not allowed to touch water for washing dishes or doing laundry and is not to drive. A Japanese mother is also not to wash her hair for one week because it is believe that it is not good for her to flex her neck.
A Phillipino mother is encouraged to rest in bed for 12 days and is visited each day by her midwife (hilot). Her hips are bound to pull all the muscles together and she is massaged each day. After the twelfth day she is bathed with warm water infused with guava and orange for the skin. She is not to go outside for 40 days after the birth.
The Indian in Guatamala have eight days where the mother is alone with the baby. Siblings are not allowed to visit for these eight days and the mother’s bed is scrubbed with lime (considered sacred and a bone strengthener). Four candles are placed around the mother’s bed symbolising the respect the child is to have for his community and home. After eight days the baby is welcomed by his family and community. Male children are celebrated because it is believed that they will work hard and so receive an extra day just with the mother. In order to promote bonding with her child, the Shoshone Indian mother lives alone, away from the main camp for a full lunar cycle after her baby is born.
In the western world, life is certainly different for a new mother. We generally do not have extended family or a community for support and new parents are often sent home from hospital within a short period. Some women experience more personalised care when they birth at hom0e. Other parents choose to employ a Doula to help during the postnatal period.
The Placenta is revered in most cultures and treated with care in its disposal to ensure the child will have a good life. In Ghana and for the Navajo Indians the placenta is buried near the home so the child will not grow wayward. The Navajo’s also bury objects with it to signify the profession they hope the child will pursue. In Hawaii the placenta is brought home and washed, then buried in the yard with a tree planted on it. (This practice is also adopted by many Australian families.) The Shoshone Indians bury their umbilical cord under an anthill to ensure an industrious hardworking life. In Samoa the placenta must be totally burned or buried so it will not be found by evil spirits. Burying or burning it at home also ensures the child will remain close to home as it moves through life. If buried under a fruit tree, the placenta provides nutrition for the tree that in turn will provide years of nutrition for the child.
Some Aboriginal tribes keep the cord when it falls off and carry it around the parent’s neck until the baby is walking. The cord is then given to a special man who keeps it until the child is 12 or 14 years old. Then the special man will come for him, give him the cord and there is a celebration. They generally bury the placenta either under the tree where they birthed or under an ant pit for the green ants (many believe that when the green ants eat the placenta no more babies will come or at least not for a while).
In Korea the placenta is often burned and the ashes kept. During periods of illness the ashen powder is given in a liquid to help heal the child. In some cultures such as Vietnam and China the placenta may also be eaten to help promote good health. In China the placenta is dried and ground, and often added to a traditional chicken dish filled with other Chinese herbs, used to nourish the new mother and replenish blood loss. There are plenty of recipes on the internet for those willing to give it a go!
Naming the baby is an honoured tradition with many cultures believing the name has great value in protecting the child and ensuring a smooth passage through life. In Korea the father in law normally names the child with a two syllable name that carries a wish for the child’s life. The Shoshone Indians have the elders name the child at a naming ceremony. The baby’s name is chosen through dreams and visions after the babies are born. In Hawaii the elders or Grandparents name the babies taking great care to choose one with special meaning. Thai babies are named a two syllable name by a Priest. A one syllable name is used by the family to trick evil spirits and keep them away from the baby.
Another wonderful aspect of many cultures is the celebration that surrounds the birth of a baby and welcoming it into the community. Many also perform rituals for the mother after her birthing journey.
The Navajo welcome the baby into the community with a blessingway ceremony. In Bali the baby is held in the arms of a family continuously for the first 105 days of the baby’s life when a ceremony is held to introduce the baby to the community. The Indians in Guatemala introduce their babies to the community after 8 days with a fiesta. Between 30-32 days after delivery, the Japanese family returns to the shrine to pay respects and give thanks for a safe delivery and healthy child.
The Aboriginal culture hold a ceremony called smoking which is seen as an important way to ensure good health for mother and baby. Dry wood and leaves are collected and placed in a shallow hole. The fire is lit and ant pits are added. When the ant pits start to go red hot and look like coals the mother squats, generally holding the baby, over the smoldering ashes and is covered with a mat or blanket. She is told to pass urine to make steam and the smoke then comes up, in and out of her. Often she will make a noise to help the baby sleep as it settles comforted by the warmth. When she is finished she gives the baby to someone else and sits for 15-20 minutes. Soft bark is also often collected and burned and the ashes rubbed on the baby’s skin to protect it. Sometimes this ceremony is performed 2-4 times for a new mother and baby. This is believed to help stop the bleeding, help her heal and make her full of milk. It is also believed to stop more babies coming too soon. The ceremony is held for the baby to help keep it warm and make it strong throughout life.
There are so many wonderful and inspiring traditions that while researching this article I find myself wishing I was born into some of these cultures where the woman is celebrated and bonding between mother and baby is cherished. Again I am reminded however that I have the choice. It is me who chooses the parenting practices I adopt and I have the freedom in the early days after my baby’s birth to create the blissful peace and reverence so many cultures create. It is me who has chosen to race out to the supermarket or clean my house or help out with our home business rather than ask for help. This is where the difference in our culture lies. We have the freedom of choice and the ability to create, but we must make it happen for ourselves by asking for help, by making our hopes and dreams known to our loved ones and by creating our own community of family and friends.
Carina Glanville is a mother of three children aged 4,2, and 5 months. She is currently writing a book on Tips for New Parents and is also coowner of the Australian Acting Academy.