7 Strange Birth Customs and Rituals from Around the Globe

  • When in Rome, you give birth as the Romans do.

The birth of a newborn baby is a momentous occasion. After the mother has endured nine months of pregnancy and the pains of childbirth, it certainly is a time for celebration.

But the form those celebrations take can be very different, depending on where you are. Throughout the ages, people have expressed their joy for the birth of new life in many ways — and some of them can be quite bizarre to the average Western observer.

Here are seven unusual birth customs and traditions from around the world.

1. Cake on the Baby — Ireland

This Irish custom doesn’t exactly take place at birth, but it still happens early in a child’s life. During a baby’s christening, you may see Irish parents spread some cake on a baby’s head.

It’s a tradition in Ireland for a married couple to save a slice of their wedding cake. Once they have their first child, the parents smear a few pieces of the cake’s top layer on the kid’s forehead.

The custom is supposed to bring the baby good luck and long life. Some parents even add a few drops of champagne to help with the blessing.

Considering how difficult it would’ve been to save a wedding cake for months before refrigeration, we’re guessing this tradition isn’t that old.

2. 30 Days of Isolation — China

Parts of China have the custom of Zuo Yuezi. Translating roughly to “sitting the month,” this tradition requires the mother to spend 30 days in confinement with her newborn child.

The mother is expected to eat more than usual during the month, but she must avoid cold foods. She’s also supposed to avoid regular bathing or leaving the house, and feed the baby certain supplements.

The practice might seem demeaning to us and even in China, many women no longer observe it. However, it does have its advantages.

Eating plenty of protein-rich foods can help the woman recover from pregnancy and birth. And gross as it may seem, avoiding excessive bathing may help heal any damage the woman may have suffered to her genitals during birth.

3. Party for Laughter — Navajo

Everybody loves hearing their baby’s first laugh. But in Navajo culture, that first giggle is a huge deal worthy of a feast.

According to traditional beliefs, a newborn baby resides partially in both the physical reality and the world of the spirits. Laughter is taken as a sign that the baby has fully transitioned to the material world and is ready to begin life.

If you happen to be visiting Navajo friends or relatives with a newborn, though, you might not want to play peekaboo with the kid. Traditionally, whoever causes the kid to have their first laugh has to pay for the party.

4. Spitting on the Baby — Mauritania

In case you’re visiting the Wolof people living in Mauritania, you might see people spitting on a newborn baby. But that’s not an insult — it’s the exact opposite.

The Wolof believe that a person’s words stick to their saliva and affect reality even after they’re spoken. It’s common for people celebrating a child’s birth to say a blessing and then spit on the baby.

This way, they’re trying to ensure their well-wishes stick to the child for good. The family might even rub the saliva on the baby’s skin to make sure the blessings come true.

5. Don’t Drop It on the Floor — Bali

Dropping the baby is never a good thing. But in Bali, you really want to hold tight to your kid.

It’s a tradition in Bali to not allow a newborn to touch the ground for the first three months of their life. The Balinese people consider babies to be completely pure, angelic little beings.

The ground, on the other hand, is a filthy place that could pollute the purity of a baby. Once a baby turns three, the Balinese hold a celebration during which the baby touches the ground for the first time.

Wonder if the five-second rule applies to babies.

6. Eating the Placenta — Everywhere

Consuming the placenta is a gross but persistent tradition. Whether it’s eaten by the mother or someone else, this tradition is present all around the world.

According to Chinese, Indian, and Jamaican folk beliefs, eating the placenta can have various spiritual benefits. In the modern West, some people think eating the placenta can supply the mother with beneficial hormones and nutrients.

There’s very little science to back that up, though. Eating the placenta raw can cause food poisoning or infections, while cooking it will destroy whatever good stuff might remain in it.

7. A Funeral for the Placenta — Ibo People

We might consider eating the placenta gross, but to the Ibo people of Nigeria and Ghana, it would be downright sacrilegious. To them, it’s the equivalent of you seeing someone chomping down on a fresh corpse.

The Ibo people believe that the placenta is more than just a nutrient funnel for the baby. They consider it the newborn’s dead twin and treat it with appropriate reverence.

After childbirth, the Ibo give the placenta a complete funeral ceremony to put the supposed dead baby to rest. The most popular burial spot is under a growing tree.

There are similar traditions elsewhere in Africa as well. The Kikuyu of Kenya, for example, bury placentas on uncultivated fields.

8. Power Through Pain — Japan

Childbirth can be painful, but fortunately, modern medicine has many ways to alleviate the agony. In Japan, though, women often want to suffer through every excruciating moment au natural.

Originating from ancient Buddhist traditions, some Japanese believe that suffering builds character. They see labor pains as a test that helps the mother prove her worth and prepare for the hard task of raising a child.

Even today, many women in Japan will refuse any and all painkillers or epidurals. Those are some hardcore mothers right there.