Traditional culture in the Philippines puts a very high value on the family -- and motherhood in particular. The birth of a baby is not just a private affair for one couple or family; it is a culturally significant event to be celebrated by the whole community. In the Philippines, pregnancy, birth and the time period after is surrounded by a wide variety of beliefs, traditional practices and rituals that involve both mother and infant.
According to Filipino beliefs, how a pregnant woman acts, the things that happen to her and even what she thinks can all have a major impact on her growing baby. Pregnant Filipino women have a long list of recommendations, warnings and taboos that restrict their behavior until they give birth. For example, a pregnant woman's food cravings must be fulfilled promptly or she may suffer a miscarriage. A pregnant women should not wear anything around her neck or the baby may get strangled by his umbilical cord. A pregnant woman should also avoid looking at anything ugly, scary or blemished, because that could cause the baby to be born disfigured.
There are many Filipino cultural beliefs that apply to the birth of the baby as well. Guests at the birth standing too near the door could create complications in labor. A laboring women should place squash leaves on her abdomen and hold onto hard objects to lessen labor pains. Coconut water can also lessen labor pain. The mother should avoid touching others while in labor or her pain may be transferred to them. It is common for many people to attend the birth, particularly female family members.
Burying the placenta, or afterbirth, as soon as possible after labor is thought necessary to end labor pains and bleeding. The baby's father is often in charge of this task. Mothers must be kept very warm, rest completely and stay inside for 30 to 40 days after the birth. According to Filipino beliefs, this helps the mother heal, helps her womb dry up and keeps "cold" or "wind" from getting inside her body. She is also given special foods to eat so she can make the most nourishing milk. Relatives take over the mother's work and take care of her while she recovers.
Newborn babies are also kept very warm and are protected from anything that might startle or frighten them. The mother's first milk, colostrum, is considered dirty in Filipino culture, so relatives feed the baby sugar water or formula for a few days until the mother's regular milk comes in. Some women also believe that their emotions can be transmitted through breast milk and may avoid feeding their babies when they are upset or angry. These beliefs, combined with communal baby care practices and formula marketing in the Philippines, can sometimes lead to problems with breastfeeding. Overall, however, the extended family is extremely conscientious about seeing that all the needs of new mothers and their babies are met completely.
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