The birth of a child can be an auspicious and sacred time for a family. Beliefs and rituals surrounding this important rite of passage vary from culture to culture. For instance, Hopi tradition in North America holds that a baby's true parents were the earth (as mother) and the corn plant (as father) with their human parents acting as surrogates who help to usher in the new life.
HuffPost Religion rounded up 12 different birth-related rituals from religious and cultural traditions. Some of those listed -- like male circumcision, feeding honey to infants and mothers eating their placentas -- are medically contested, but they nonetheless offer a glimpse into practices that religious communities have observed for centuries.
Did you hold any rituals at the time of your child's birth? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!
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There are lots of religious and cultural ceremonies to honor women during their pregnancies. Some Hindus observe a ritual called Simantonnyana
in the seventh month of pregnancy, during which prayers are recited and the mother's hair is delicately parted
by her husband to put her in a calm, relaxed mood.
Some modern pagans hold "Blessing Way
" ceremonies on the last full moon before a woman's due date. During the ritual friends gather, brush the woman's hair and wash her feet with herbs. Each woman in the circle presents the mother with a prayer or spiritual gift, before concluding with a ritual feast.
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is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, providing essential oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. After the baby's birth, the placenta leaves the body, having fulfilled its purpose. Although most hospitals today simply dispose
of placentas after childbirth, people from different religious and cultural traditions throughout history and to this day have honored the organ's role in nourishing the fetus. These rituals included burying
(which today some mothers are also choosing to do outside of a religious context)
or making jewelry
out of the placenta.
In Muslim and Hindu traditions, a baby's head is typically shaved
within several days or in the first three years after birth. In Islam, it is done to show that the child is a servant of Allah. In Hinduism, the ceremony, called a mundan
, is believed to rid the baby of negativity from their past life and cleanse the child's body and soul. Some Hindus in India take the baby's hair to scatter in the holy river Ganges, while some Muslims weigh it and donate the equivalent weight in silver to charity.
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Male circumcision, called B'rit Milah
in Judaism, is a ceremony and surgical operation in which the foreskin is removed from the penis of an 8-day old baby. Circumcision is also practiced in Islam and Christianity, though it is only considered a religious requirement in Judaism. The tradition stems from Genesis 17
, in which God commands Abraham: “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, every male among you throughout the generations shall be circumcised, even the homeborn slave... An uncircumcised male... has broken My covenant.”
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, or rituals involving the literal or symbolic immersion in water, take place in several religious traditions and at different points in a person's life. Baptism of infants is common practice in Catholicism
and viewed as a way of cleansing the child of "original sin
." During the baptism, the priest pours water over the child's head, or sprinkles a few drops on their forehead, while reciting the Trinitarian invocation, “I baptize you: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
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Some Hindus choose to have their baby's ears pierced in a ritual called Karnavedha
. Some believe
that the pierced ears help ward off evil, while other believe the ear lobe is a vital acupuncture point and that piercing it may have a therapeutic value. The ceremony
typically takes place within the first or third year after birth and may be done simultaneously with the mundan, or head shaving, ritual.
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The tradition of inviting adult members of the family or community to serve as godparents for a child is found in several religious and cultural traditions around the world, but most prominently
in Catholicism. The chosen godparent typically holds the baby during their baptism ceremony. As Jesuit priest, Rev. James Martin, explained
to The Huffington Post, “The question asked in the Catholic sacrament of baptism is a good one: ‘Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?’ So it's less an honor given to a friend, or a kind of ‘reward’ for a relative, than an important duty asked of a trusted faithful person."
Muslims believe that the adhan, or call to prayer ("God is great, there is no God but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Come to prayer.") should be the first words
a newborn baby hears. The prayer is typically whispered into the right ear of the child by his or her father.
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In Shinto tradition, parents and grandparents take the baby to visit their family shrine
, a local place of worship, within 30 to 100 days after birth as a way of welcoming them as a new adherent. The ceremony is called a miyamairi
and is viewed as an opportunity to present the baby to the deities and ask for their protection on behalf of the child.
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Sikhs frequently welcome new babies into their communities with great fanfare. Parents visit their local gurdwara
, or temple, with the baby as soon as possible following the birth, typically within forty days. At the temple, a priest opens the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh faith, to a random page and reads a passage aloud. The family chooses a name by using the first letter of the hymn on the page opened. The baby's name is then announced to the congregation. Afterward, a sweet dish made from flour, semolina, butter and sugar is distributed among the congregation as a celebratory treat.
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Many Hindu and Muslim communities believe that an infant's first taste should be something sweet "so that the baby speaks sweetly," as one Bangladeshi patient told researchers
. In Islam, this is done by rubbing either a softened date or a bit of honey into the baby's upper palate. Hindus typically use honey exclusively for the ritual, called Jatakarma
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Many religious and cultural traditions have some form of ceremony surrounding the naming of a newborn. After all, everyone has to have a name, and names often carry spiritual significance
. In Judaism, baby's are often given both Hebrew and secular names
. During the ceremony, the parents announce the name and its significance to them, and blessings are said to acknowledge that the child has entered into a covenant with God. Ashkenazic Jews, those of European ancestry, typically select a name to commemorate a deceased relative. Sephardic Jews, those of Spanish and Middle Eastern ancestry, often name their children after living relatives.