Birth is beautiful, but in some parts of the world, it’s also a bit weird. These 10 birth customs may make you feel really thankful you weren’t born around any of them.
10Balinese Babies Can’t Touch The Ground
Various strange ceremonies surround Balinese birth. Take the setra ari ari, for instance. The Balinese believe that the placenta, or ari ari, has a spirit of its own that acts as the child’s guardian angel. Parents therefore bury the placenta ritually in a special cemetery.
But perhaps the weirdest custom is that babies aren’t allowed to touch the ground until they reach three months of age. The newborn is considered pure, and any contact with the floor within those three months will defile it. But at the three-month mark, the family holds a formal ceremony, in which the baby walks the unclean ground for the first time.
9Eating The Placenta
The placenta sends the fetus nutrition, but some mothers consider it to be nutrition itself. Through maternal placentophagy, the mother eats her own placenta after birth to absorb hormones and other nutrients.
The practice is very common among animals that may have no other food handy right after labor. It turns out that some humans swear by it, too. Traditional medicine in China, Jamaica, and parts of India recommend it for various mystical reasons. Modern practitioners claim that hormones from the placenta can relieve stress and curb post-partum depression.
Scientists remain skeptical. Cooking the placenta destroys the hormones and other unique proteins, while eating it raw risks infection that outweighs any benefits.
8Wedding Cake On The Baby’s Forehead
Some couples save a bit of their wedding cake for an anniversary, but Irish couples traditionally hold on to theirs for another occasion: the first child’s christening. The parents serve the top tier of the cake to guests and sprinkle a few crumbs on the child’s forehead to bless it with good luck.
A proper Irish wedding cake generally has a fair bit of whiskey. But since a few crumbs of whiskey cake is hardly enough alcohol for an Irish child, couples often save some champagne from the wedding along with the cake. They open it at the baptism and use it to wet the happy baby’s head.
The Manchu, an ethnic minority in China, have a weird way of showing their love for their newborns. Their public displays of affection extend even to the child’s genitals. Girls receive joyous genital tickling, while the boys receive full-on fellatio from their mothers. Similar practices go on in some other cultures, among some people in Thailand, Japan, and India.
The act isn’t intended as sexual at all. Interestingly, the Manchu do consider kisses to always be sexual, even when given to a family member or child, so Manchu parents will never kiss their child’s face.
6Chinese Pregnancy Restrictions
Apparently, China has a great many odd birth customs. When a Chinese couple marry and enter their home for the first time, the husband is supposed to carry the bride over the threshold, just like the international custom—but he also carries her over burning coals to ensure that she can give birth without any problems. Then when the wife does get pregnant, she traditionally faces a host of unusual and surprising bans.
She must not gossip. She must not laugh too loudly. She mustn’t get angry or even think bad thoughts. She mustn’t look at colors that clash, and she should only eat light-colored food (to create a light-colored baby, of course). She must never sit on a crooked mat, else the child may be born deformed.
She must sleep with a knife under her bed, so the sharp object will deter bad spirits. The house must not undergo any construction during the pregnancy—and the mother can have absolutely no sex.
5Spitting On The Baby
The Wolof people of Mauritania and surrounding countries believe that human saliva can retain words, so they spit on newborns to add blessings that stick. When a baby is born, women spit on its face, men spit in its ear, and then, for good measure, they rub saliva all over its head.
The Igbo tribe in Nigeria goes a step further. When a baby is born, it goes to the family’s ancestral house. There, a relative who is a good orator chews some alligator pepper, spits it on a finger, and puts it in the baby’s mouth. This supposedly makes the child grow up to be just as good an orator as the donor of the spit.
4Shoving Mayan Babies In Chilled Water
What do you do to keep your baby free of heat strokes and rashes? If you answered “douse them in icy water,” there’s a good chance you’re Mayan.
In hot countries like Guatemala, Mayan mothers think ice baths are the best way to fight the heat. The babies generally scream during their whole time in the bath, but the mothers don’t mind. They claim the baby goes to sleep right after. And whether or not that’s true, witnesses say that the ice bath really does cure heat rash.
3Lithuanian Baby Racing
Most of our infants spend their time chilling and getting spoiled by their parents, but some Lithuanian babies have things a little different. Every year, the country organizes a race to find the fastest crawler in the country.
The event is often marked by hilarious moments when the babies have absolutely no idea what to do and crash midway—because they’re babies. Parents nudge them on by holding toys or other shiny objects.
The race is even supported by sponsors and generally attracts huge crowds every year. It’s scheduled annually for June 1, which just happens to be International Child Protection Day.
2Unassisted Nigerian Birth
In parts of Nigeria, pregnant women are supposed to give birth alone. Midwives and other support come in after the delivery, but the woman is expected to go through the process itself without any help.
This custom has more to do with poverty and women’s low social standing than with independence. In a lot of cases, the families simply don’t support asking for outside help, no matter how much the mother needs it. Some organizations are responding to the trend by entering rural areas and offering help. Unaided, mothers who give birth often suffer miscarriages or other complications.
1Isolated Pakistani Mothers
Kalash mothers in Pakistan also traditionally give birth away from their families but for a different reason: The culture considers mothers in labor to be unclean. Mothers therefore deliver their children in a special isolated building called the Bashleni.
The system lets men stay far away from the disgusting fluids and the general air of childbirth, for fear of polluting themselves. Even other women who will probably go through the same thing in the future, or have in the past, don’t want be around. The only people who can enter the house to assist the mother are women who are menstruating because they, too, are seen as unclean.