Baby Rituals Around the WorldErica Knecht
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Tiger Mothers may rear piano prodigies, and French Mothers might bring up tantrum-free tots, but neither parenting strategy has a reliable solution for colicky babies, a sure-fire sleep trick for a wakeful babe, nor a cure for a case of the postpartum uglies.
The world is brimming with unique and divergent baby advice, some wise, some wonderful, and some just a little bit weird. While the parenting experts of the world might not agree on the exact right way to bring up baby, these examples of parting wisdom from far-flung places prove that there are just as many ways to raise babies as there are babies to be raised.
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During the first months of new motherhood, you won't see a Dominican mom out for a stroll with her wee one. Dominican babies are kept indoors almost exclusively, protecting their precious tots from sun, cloud, wind, viruses, or the evil eye. If, perchance, life necessitates taking a babe outside, hes always fully covered to protect him from the elements, normal or paranormal. Which, all things considered, is probably good advice for this sun-drenched island.
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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 its 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.
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In Swiss maternity wards, the clear plastic hospital bassinet has lost its place of primacy. Instead, newborns snooze in Hngemattes, hammocks that bounce, rock, and swing, and soothe the babies after their perilous journey into the world. I can confirm from personal experience that these things are miracle workers. We bought one for home, and it was the only thing that quieted the shrieks of our colicky girl. I would have sooner given up my right arm than abandon this contraption.
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When faced with a fussy, over-tired, sleep-resisting babe, Swedish parents have the ultimate weapon: buffing. Parents lie their baby on his bed, stomach down (many use a baby-sized apnea sensor for safety) and then buff the babys bottom, patting it firmly in a rhythmic motion until the child drifts off to sleep. The rhythmic bum patting is thought to mirror in utero movement and provide a sense of security and safety, which allows the baby to sleep the whole night through.
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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 latt and revel in some grown-up conversation on the terrace of the neighborhood caf. 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.
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Serbian babies spend a lot of time on their backs. According to folk wisdom, placing a babe younger than six months in a seated position will harm her hips. In fact, all across the former Yugoslavia, you can spot infants in hip braces preventing them from moving into a seated position. Im guessing, then, that you might want to put the kibosh on those plans to import Bumbo seats to the Balkans.
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If you happen to find yourself in Bulgaria with a new bundle of joy, don't be surprised if admirers gaze lovingly on your precious babe and then spit in her face (or at least mimic the idea) while uttering May the chickens poop on you. According to Bulgarian tradition, if one praises a child, the devil will become jealous. So, its best to pretend that the child is ugly and keep her safe. This phlegmatic tradition might have some usefulness; Bulgarian kids are taught from an early age to be wary of the devils envy, and thus there is a strong taboo against being too boastful or too proud.
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After delivering a baby, you won't find a Jordanian woman celebrating her accomplishment with an ice cream sundae. Women in Jordan typically avoid cold foods and drinks after giving birth. According to traditional belief, the bones of a new mom are still open. Exposure to cold in this vulnerable state could set her up for all manner of problems later in life, including rheumatism and arthritis. Hot foods, on the other hand, are thought to help stimulate milk supply.
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In Mongolia, breast milk is the breakfast (and lunch and dinner) of champions. Extended breastfeeding is widely practiced in Mongolia; most children nurse until age two, and some continue well beyond infancy. Nursing is so common that there is no shame attached to spotting a boob in action; nursing in public is as normal to a Mongolian as a drive-thru burger is to us. In fact, there is a saying that the best wrestlers in Mongolia nurse until age four.
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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 its said to help stimulate milk production. It is often eaten on the anniversary of a childs birth as a sweet (or salty?) reminder of his very first day.
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Japanese mothers have a distinct method of getting baby to take a nap. Mom feeds, rocks, or bounces her babe until hes good and drowsy, then lies him gently, supine, on his baby futon. Then, Mom lovingly and slowly, at about the pace of a beating heart, pats her tots tummy, ton ton ton, until the wee one is fast asleep. I know this because my girl, who goes to Japanese daycare, passes endless hours ton ton toning her baby doll to sleep.
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Chinese parents are the true originators of the diaper-free baby trend. When babies are just a few weeks old, mothers hold their babies above the commode and teach them to do their business on command. Sensitive to tiny bladders and the need to rush when its go time, Chinese moms dress their tots in split-crotch pants, even when on the go. Pee-pee emergencies can be handled swiftly as the mother holds the child in a squatting position, with no need for unbuttoning, unzipping, or un-tucking. (It brings a whole new perspective on the image of a babe with rosy cheeks.)
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New mothers in Hong Kong have a good thing going on. As part of a traditional belief that is common throughout Asia, new mothers must complete a month-long confinement period. If the new moms own mother is unavailable, she might hire a pui yuet, or confinement lady, who looks after everything from diaper changes to dishes. The recovering moms only responsibilities are eating and sleeping. Still, there are tradeoffs. Its called confinement, after all, and a new mom must spend 30 days in a warm, dark room. Oh, and for the entirety of the month, no showers or baths are allowed as women need to prevent feeling chilled so soon after having a baby.
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Filipina mothers have a sure-fire way of wrangling their babies to sleep: the duyan. A woven cradle, or hammock, the duyan is used to gently rock a tired babe until she finally passes out, and then her mother places the sleeping infant on the banig, or sleeping mat, for a long, restful snooze.
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After delivering her baby, a new mother undergoes a pantang, or confinement period lasting about 44 days. Designed to preserve the health and femininity of the mother, theres lots of pampering involved. Hot stone massages cleanse the womb. Theres the lulur, a full-body exfoliation treatment that is said to smooth, soften, and lighten the skin, and chase away the postpartum uglies. And finally, some women hire a bidan, or postnatal attendant who cares for the new mother and administers therapeutic massages. All I can say is that if I get knocked up again, Im moving to Malaysia.
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