Traditional Native American postpartum pregnancy customs were steeped in cultural tradition while being mindful of the health of the new mother and baby.
Historically, some Native American women would delivered their babies alone in quiet place. Some tribes, such as the Shoshone, would allow the mother and grandmother to attend the birth, but in almost all cases, men were not allowed to be present. Navajo women would also chant or hold onto sacred items during delivery.
Many tribes had rituals intended to protect the new baby. The Navajo buried the placenta as a way to protect the newborn from evil spirits. The Shoshone buried the umbilical cord to ensure certain character traits, such as ambition. Other tribes required new mothers to plunge the newborn into a nearby river every day for the first two years of life, which was believed to keep the baby healthy.
Other Postpartum Customs
Some ritual practices continued for a period of time after the birth. The Shoshone tribe required the new mother to live alone with her baby for the first month to foster a bond between the two. Many Indian tribes held a naming ceremony several days after the baby was born. Another Shoshone custom concerned dietary restrictions, requiring new parents to refrain from eating red meat for several weeks after the birth of the baby.
Mothers and Their Duties
In almost all cases, Native American mothers would return to their usual duties very quickly, according to the National History Education Clearinghouse. (See Reference 2) To allow new Native American mothers to resume their duties, Native American babies were swaddled and strapped to a cradleboard, which was carried on the mother's back. (See Reference 3) Though cradleboards are still used, many Native American mothers opt for a more modern way to carry their baby, such as a baby sling.
- Health Care For Women International: Living in Two Worlds: Native American Women and Prenatal Care
- National History Education Clearinghouse: Native American Customs of Childbirth
- University of Hawaii: Traditions: A Few Beliefs on Pregnancy and Babies of Shoshone Indians
- Nursing Health Assessment: A Critical Thinking, Case Studies Approach; Patricia M. Dillon
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images