15 baby rituals from around the world

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Photo by borkur.net, used under Creative Commons license.

You know what I love? Reaffirming that there are approximately eighty-five million different ways to raise a child, and that each of them is fantastic (assuming everyone’s happy and healthy, obviously). That’s why something like this piece about international baby rituals and practices is so awesome.

Parenthood: we’re all doing it one way or another. Dig in to learn a few fun facts about child-raising around the world:

From Guatemala:

Mayan women traditionally bathe their babies in frigid water believing that cold baths calm heat rash and promote restful sleep. Unperturbed by the infant objections, Mayan moms expect babies to scream in the bath; to them it’s as normal as an American infant going gaga for his bouncy chair. As experts in tropical baby care, maybe these moms are on to something.


Strollers never crowd Danish cafes because babies nap peacefully outside in their prams. Bundled up against the winter elements or shaded from the summer sun, they enjoy fresh air and sound sleep while their mothers sip a latté and revel in some grown-up conversation on the terrace of the neighborhood café. In fact, the Danish National Board of Health specifically recommends the practice, believing that babies sleep more soundly, eat with more gusto, and are more alert after an outdoor kip.

South Korea:

After delivering their babies, South Korean women eat endless bowls of miyeok guk, or seaweed soup. Seaweed for breakfast, seaweed for lunch, and seaweed for dinner. High in calcium and iodine, the dish is believed to be essential for restoring the postpartum body to full health, and it’s said to help stimulate milk production. It is often eaten on the anniversary of a child’s birth as a sweet (or salty?) reminder of his very first day.

Check out the rest of the list — which custom is most appealing to you? What other parenthood customs and rituals do you love?

Comments on 15 baby rituals from around the world

  1. Link borked.

    I love the different little rituals–the Danish one makes me smile, because I know how flustered women in the States get at the idea of stepping even a foot from a baby’s stroller. VERY interesting how the attitudes change in different countries and cultures.

    • HMMM. It looks like it’s a probably on Babble’s end. I’ll leave the post up since it has three of them in it, and maybe Babble will sort itself out.

  2. I grew up in FL and every night before bed, my dad would take an ice cold wet washcloth and wipe down my arms and legs to help my body cool off and me sleep better. If you can’t lower the A/C to help cool off the body to sleep better, a wet washcloth can do the trick.

  3. Aw, I’m so bummed the link’s not working right now.

    In Hawaiian tradition, or at least my Hawaiian family’s tradition (it could be blended with Japanese…), the mother and the baby are not to leave the house for at least 3 weeks after the baby has been born. This is to ensure both the mother and the baby have sufficiently recovered from the birthing experience and their immune system is in tip-top shape. Apparently, my mother (having lived on the mainland for some time), ignored that rule with when I was born and called her mother hysterically sobbing out of exhaustion from a quick trip to the store. My compassionate Tutu’s response: “Shame on you! Why you neva listen?!”<–not exactly the long-distance hug my mom was looking for. lol

    • I know someone of Chinese decent who did the same thing when her daughter was born last year. Not only did she and the baby stay home – they also didn’t accept any visitors until that three weeks was up. (I don’t know if this was tradition in her family, or just the fact she’s a nurse and her husband’s a doctor. Maybe they were just super cautious?)

      • That’s exactly how my family does it! No visitors except for immediate family. Modern Hawaiian tradition tends to be very Asian-inspired. I immediately thought Japanese, because of the area my mother grew up in–but it could very well be Chinese. Very cool.

      • I would say that’s likely the reason! It sounds like a Hawaiian tradition, and as my husband’s (Hawaiian) family will tell you, growing up in Hawai’i does not a Hawaiian make. They even give him shit (in a light-hearted way!) because he’s somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 Hawaiian. 😉

  4. My partner is British and explained to me that his mothers generation used to get a pint of Guinness in the hospital bed after delivery to restore iron! If pregnant women were anemic they were often “prescribed” a half pint of Guinness a day until their iron levels came back up as well. I would sure love beer during this pregnancy, thats for sure!

    • Beer also promotes milk production (hence the “milk stout”), but alcohol lowers it. Its a delicate balance, but since its about the barley, low alcohol and “nonalcoholic” beers work as well. I had major beer cravings during my pregnancy, but Killians and O’douls satisfied them.

  5. My fiance is Korean and he told me that his son’s first birthday was a huge traditional ordeal. It sounded strange at first. I’ve heard people remark as to the ‘silliness’ of throwing parties for babies since they won’t remember anything. He explained that huge first birthday bashes are a big deal in a lot of countries because lots of babies didn’t (and still sadly often don’t) make it past their first year. That made it seem so much sweeter and sensible.

    His son wore traditonal Korean clothes and they did little games like placing the baby in front of money, food, and [something else, can’t remember!] To see which object they pick up first as a prediction of their personality. =)

    • I remember reading about something like this in The Namesake. I don’t know how to post hyperlinks, but this is related: http://www.babycenter.in/baby/traditions/annaprashan/
      “The religious ceremony is often followed by a fun game where a number of symbolic objects are placed on a banana leaf or silver tray which your baby can then pick up. The objects include:

      books symbolising learning
      jewels symbolising wealth
      a pen symbolising wisdom
      clay symbolising property
      food items symbolising a love for food”

    • Oops – I just commented about the same first birthday tradition! Didn’t see yours until now, but I’m glad you mentioned it too 🙂

  6. I lived in South Korea for a year, and there was one Korean tradition I thought about doing with my daughter on her first birthday. At a baby’s first birthday party, the parents place a few items in front of the birthday boy/girl. Some examples might be a pencil or a toy microphone. Then the item the baby grabs is supposed to symbolize what they will be when they grow up! Even if this tradition doesn’t really tell baby’s future, it’s definitely a fun memory or scrapbook-able moment!

  7. Here in Israel parents are REALLY big on bundling up babies… it was a shock to me when I took my baby to the US and saw babies without hats on in 60 degree weather! I’ve also heard the “don’t let your child sit up” thing– Israelis often won’t let their children sit up until they do so on their own.

    Also, a traditional first food here– Bamba, which are basically peanut butter puffs (shaped like cheese whizzes). We also have some of the lowest peanut allergy rates in the world!

  8. Okay the Chinese tradition about being diaper-free TOTALLY explains a lot while I was travelling in Asia, and some Asian parents here in Canada. So often in Asia (Vietnam, some areas in Japan, etc) I would see parents just holding their kids over a gutter in a squat position with their pants around their ankles taking a wizz.

    I saw it a couple of times here in Canada too, and I was like WTF is going on?!

    But this makes a lot of sense now.

  9. I did the Korean 1st-year tradition (that a few posters mentioned above) when I was a baby! I picked up the pen. Apparently, that meant I was going to be a scholar or writer.

    I can verify that the seaweed soup thing is true. My mom taught my dad how to make it when she was pregnant and I intend to show my honey when I get pregnant. Seaweed is great! Lots of iron & nutrients, in a light beef broth for protein. Very healthy!

    Did anyone else actually look through the whole slideshow in the link? I wanna move to Malaysia. Hot stone massages, full body exfoliation, & therapeutic massage? Please, sign me up. Maybe I can convince my honey it’s a Korean tradition, too. 😉

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