Childbirth in Other Cultures
The Udmurts beyond the River Kama, a native group of Swedes, who believe that every action of the mother to be will affect the appearance and health of the unborn child. Although we understand that a mother can affect the health of her child by eating well, exercise and avoiding harmful substances; the Udmurts understand that offending someone, being near a dead body or stealing among other things will negatively affect the health of the baby.
Similar beliefs are found traditionally among the women of Malaysia and Indonesia where women are careful to be kind to all living creatures, and avoid any kind of fright.
The Roma (gypsies) believe that a pregnant woman is impure and so put on her restrictions that keep her isolated from most of the group, even limiting her time with her husband, to prevent her from dirtying other items or people of the group.
According to Orkney custom, a pregnancy must be kept a secret to prevent the fairies from finding out about the baby and causing harm to the mother or child.
Reviews of the literature from anthropologists around the world demonstrate that each culture has its own set of beliefs and superstitions surrounding the time of childbirth. The problem with belonging to a culture is you don't always recognize where the line between fact and superstition lies.
In our own culture, we find doctors and hospitals continuing to perform procedures that studies have demonstrated as unnecessary or harmful because of a pervasive belief that it is necessary or important for the health of the mother. We have seen the ending of the pubic shave and the enema, but episiotomies are still performed as "necessary" to prevent damage to the perineum without any understanding that an episiotomy itself damages the perineum.
Robbie Davis-Floyd is a social anthropologist who studied the customs, traditions and beliefs around birth in the United States. Although her work Birth as an American Rite of Passage is approaching 10 years old, most of the procedures she discusses are still in use in hospitals today. Take some time to read her conclusions and decide for yourself where the fact and superstition overlap in American birth customs.
What would you like next?
Learn comfort techniques for labor.
Find out about ways to reduce unnecessary pain in labor.
Learn ways to handle Childbirth Challenges.
Find out what normal labor is like.
Review the birth plan options that may be available to you.