Monday, September 30, 2013

Birth and Beyond: Welcoming Your Bundle Of Joy

Now that you've spent nine months avoiding the eclipse and not crossing rivers at night, and you've welcomed your bouncing bundle of joy, what's next? Well, just as there are a lot of beliefs surrounding how to get pregnant and what to do (or not do) during your pregnancy, you can imagine there are many that come into play once your baby arrives. Here is a list to get you started from birth and beyond.

Post Delivery Confinement:  Originally introduced to keep the mother and child safe from infection and evil spirits, as well as allow time for the mother to recover from the delivery, the post delivery confinement period lasts for approximately 40 days. This also aids in protecting the child from nazar, or Evil Eye, which we'll learn more about later. Confinement may take place in the wife's parent's home or at her in-laws place. It's common for the parents of the wife to pay for the birth of the first born. Often, the woman will travel to her parent's home for the last few months of her pregnancy, and stay there through the confinement period only return home to her husbands place around the 2nd or 3rd month following birth.

Mama Massage: During confinement, new mothers are often given maalish, or a full body massage once a day. Believed to help with circulation and of course, relaxation.

Baby Massage: Baby massage, either given by the mother, grandmother, or dai is also very common. Normally, the child will have a bath once a day, followed by a massage with oil, a head to toe covering of baby powder, then application of the nazar battu, which is the intentional blemishes drawn on to ward off Evil Eye.  Unfortunately, even if a trained dai, or nursemaid, is employed for the massage, many times due to too rigorous of a massage, this practice leads to dislocation of the joints and a trip for the new-born to the hospital.

Food: As we learned in Food Myths and Mysteries, there are many beliefs surrounding food in India. For the new mom, here are a few guidelines:
  • Gourds such as lauki and tori are believed to increase your supply of milk.
  • Paan (betel leaves) after every meal is thought to help with digestion.
  • Increased intake of ghee (clarified butter) is believed to help regain strength and aid muscle repair.
  • Fruits, fizzy drinks and juices are believed to be cooling.
  • Green and red chillies might be difficult to digest so you might be told to replace them with black pepper for some spice.
  • Foods believed to produce gas for your baby through your milk will be discouraged. Some examples include onions and jackfruit.
  •  Garlic may be consumed in large quantities as it's believed to aid in the contraction of the uterus.
Evil Eye: It is believed that new-borns are highly susceptible to nazar or 'Evil Eye.' To protect the new-born from Evil Eye, there are many practices that can be used:
  • If your child has an evil eye cast upon him/her, wave some salt over her/his head and toss it into the fire or water.
  • Another common widely followed way is to wave red whole chillies over the affected child and throwing them in the fire. People are usually heard of saying that if the smoke smells of chillies, then the child was not affected by an evil eye or buri nazar. But, if the smoke does not smell of chillies, it is said that the child was indeed troubled by the evil eye and it has been warded off.
  • Babies are usually adorned with kajal (kohl) under their eyes or on their foreheads. There is a common belief that this actually mars their beauty and makes them look unappealing to those casting an Evil Eye.  It's also common to see them with drawn on eyebrows.
  • A small pocket knife, an iron piece or religious charms are kept by the baby’s side to protect him/her.
  • Bits of pottery from a burial ground, tooth of a crocodile or a tiger’s claw at one’s homes are popular charms said to ward off the Evil Eye.
  • Small mirrors are also sewn or braided together and are said to reflect back bad energy.
  • The child may also be adorned with an amulet such as a taviz. Taviz is generally in the form of a black string and can be tied around the neck, wrist, or ankle, and less commonly, the upper arm (between the shoulder and the elbow).
  • Families will also sometimes dress their little boys up as little girls when taking them out, so as to curb the likelihood of someone feeling jealous over the birth of a boy and hence cast an Evil Eye on the child.
Jewellery: Seeing babies wearing jewellery is quite common. Apart from the taviz, seeing small children with anklets, bangles, and earrings is a normal site. Many Hindus will have an ear piercing ceremony for their child, regardless of gender, on their first birthday. These can be as offerings to the Gods, or to keep away evil spirits, or to welcome the good spirits that will watch over the child, offering health, happiness and prosperity.

Birth Defects: Using the term "defect" might be a bit harsh here, but I'm talking about small abnormalities that could be easily corrected with surgery. Many of these things are believed to be auspicious. Those include, skin tags, extra fingers or toes, or, God forbid, tails. It seems these things are good luck and will ensure your health and prosperity.
I remember watching an episode of Ripley's Believe It Or Not several years ago and there was as story of an Indian child that was born with a tail, who, rather than having it corrected, was worshipped for it.

I'll admit it, I'm not a fan of many of the customs and feel that a lot of them stem from outdated superstitions. I also worry that some of them might cause harm to the child, such as the fear of post-natal check-ups due to worry over the Evil Eye, massages resulting in dislocation of the joints, blindness caused by a bacteria infested kohl pencil, or the risk of the child getting a taviz which is tied around their wrist, ankle, or neck caught on something and choking.
What do you think about these customs? Any you'd like to add or learn more about? Feel free to leave a note in the comments.


  1. I don't know what to say..I've never heard there would be so many things in baby birth

  2. It will give you an idea of what to prepare for, when your expecting your first child, Joshi.