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Intriguing Newborn Rituals From Around the World

Pearl Kasujja Jingkids 2021-10-19

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Joy to the world, a child is born. Let the quirky newborn traditions begin!


Different cultures perform some rather interesting practices when a baby is born, or before their first birthday. We take a look at some of the most riveting ones. 


  • In a “normal” world, spitting is either a gesture of contempt and anger or a means to getting rid of unwanted substances in the mouth. Either way, it’s generally done in poor taste. But, a normal world it ain’t. In some cultures, spitting on a newborn is considered a show of affinity and delight. In Mauritania for example, parents from the Wolof tribe will spit on newborns as a way of blessing them. Typically, a woman will spit on the baby’s face and a man will spit in its ear before they rub the leftover saliva all over the baby’s head. Here’s hoping they’ve paused this tradition during COVID-19, or that they at least give their teeth a solid brushing before spitting on the baby. 

  • Staying with “sprinkling” newborns with saliva, the Igbo tribe in Nigeria spices things up a notch, literally. When an Igbo baby is born, it’s whisked off to the family’s ancestral home where a good orator – usually a relative – chews on an alligator pepper, spits it on a finger, and puts the finger and its contents into the baby’s mouth. This is apparently done so the child becomes as good an orator as the one “kindly” donating his pepper-filled gob.

  • The Manchu people – one of China’s ethnic minority populations – are always delighted by a newborn. So delighted in fact that they tickle the genitals of the baby to show how happy they are. Yes, you read that right. For showing affection to their newborn offsprings, a baby girl’s genitals are tickled, while the boy’s genitals will receive something approximating fellatio from the mother. But don’t call social services yet: This isn’t meant in a sexual way, it’s simply a traditional practice. What’s actually considered sexual by the Manchu people is kissing a child’s face. Kissing is frowned upon, but touching baby genitalia is celebrated. Interesting, right?

  • In some parts of Africa, newborns are given their first bath by the paternal grandmother. After the bath, the grandmother usually bends the baby’s arms backward to ensure the limbs are flexible and to prevent stiffness in later life (these babies must be yoga masters now). Traditionally, babies were also tossed in the air to make sure their reflexes work.

  • Most of us have heard of umbilical hernias. They are swollen, protruding bumps on umbilical cords that can happen to babies as young as 2-months. Most umbilical hernias in babies tend to close on their own by age 1 or 2. But, in Uganda, they don’t have the patience to wait that long. Instead, they have a “genius” way of getting rid of the pesky bump: They get the baby’s uncle to step on the belly button for a few days until it disappears. And yes, it has to be an uncle. Not an aunt or any other relative – an uncle. Tough luck for babies born with a hernia and with no uncle.

  • Other cultures believe that a hernia can be fixed by taping a coin down over the bulge, although doctors strongly urge people not to try this. Oh well, I would definitely take a coin over a grown man stomping on my baby’s umbilical cord. 

  • When you visit a newborn baby in Bulgaria, please refrain from the coos because that is considered bad luck. Apparently, the devil listens to our cooing and will come and “steal” all the praise, which in turn will bring harm to the object of admiration – aka the baby.

  • The placenta. That ugly, pinkish, blobby after-birth thing. It’s pretty unpleasant to look at, in my opinion. But for many people, it’s worth its weight in gold (and that’s a lot of gold cause boy does it weigh a ton). Lately, many people around the world are bringing it home with their baby, chopping it up, adding a liberal amount of pepper and salt, perhaps marinading it for extra flavor, and then cooking it up and eating it. Many believe that eating the placenta helps prevent postpartum depression, increases milk production, supports uterine recovery, reduces pain, and enhances maternal bonding. Doctors tend to disagree – but that’s a whole different story. Try arguing with a hormonal woman who wants to eat her placenta.



  • In Bali, Indonesia, though, they don’t eat it. They believe that the placenta – known as ari ari – is a sort of twin to the newborn. So, instead of eating it (cause you don’t eat kids, right?), it is carefully cleaned and wrapped in a white cloth before being buried outside the family home in an elaborate ceremony. The Kikuyu people in Kenya bury the placenta too, in an uncultivated field and cover it with grain and grass.

  • Staying in Bali, when babies are born, they are considered – and treated like – gods. Their feet can’t touch the ground for the first 210 days of life and when those precious toes do touch the ground, the little gods/goddesses finally transition into the world, like the rest of us mere mortals. I knew I should have been born in Bali!

  • In Japan, umbilical cords – heso-no-o, or “tail of the belly” – are considered precious because they are believed to be connected to a child’s welfare. So, after birth, the hospital will present the new mother with the baby’s cord, usually stored in a nice wooden box, as she leaves the hospital. The family is expected to save it for the baby’s future prosperity.

  • A baby’s first laugh is precious, isn’t it? In the Navajo culture, an indigenous American territory, when a baby first laughs, it’s a big deal. It means that the child is transitioning from the spirit world to the physical world, and the milestone is celebrated with a big party. Word of caution though, whoever is responsible for the baby’s first chuckle has to pay for the party. 

  • In some Muslim cultures, a newborn baby’s head is shaved on the seventh day of its life and a sheep is slaughtered. The sacrifice is called aqiqah. After the sacrifice, the shaved hair is weighed, and that weight in silver is given to charity.

There are numerous other newborn rituals around the world, more than we could possibly cover here. Most birth rituals are fun and enjoyable. They are a deeply ingrained part of our cultures and are rightfully celebrated and kept alive for future generations. From naming ceremonies and baptisms to even circumcisions (ouch), these rituals, however archaic some may seem, give people a sense of cultural belonging. The genitalia-touching ritual though – I’ll pass on that one.


If we missed an interesting ritual from your culture, tell us about it in the comments!


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Images: Unsplash

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