The Inuit – native peoples of the northern United States territory, Canada and Greenland – consider children a gift. Unlike many traditional cultures, newborn boys and girls are equally welcomed, fathers participate actively in childrearing and the entire community gives all youngsters a supportive welcome. Because of the Inuit's deep appreciation of babies and children, rich and distinct customs and beliefs define the Inuit journey from conception to childbirth.
Conceiving a Child
Many Inuits believe that when a child is conceived, it takes on the spirit of a recently-deceased relative. Likewise, the Inuit believe that this soul or spirit informs the child's looks, personality, skills and other characteristics. Commonly, Inuit women claim to intuit their conception, or have knowledge of their pregnancy before receiving medical confirmation. The Inuit do not typically consider conception out of wedlock a sin, and do not disparage parents or children in such situations.
Traditions During Pregnancy
Many Inuit women, such as those from communities in Alaska, remain quite active during pregnancy, performing day-to-day regimens as usual. Superstitions often play a key role in Inuit pregnancy. Some Inuit women avoid wearing jewelry or braids – a practice thought to prevent the child from choking via the umbilical cord upon birth – while others avoid walking through doors backward, blowing bubbles, napping at irregular times or blowing up balloons. Many Inuit women place great importance on their dreams during pregnancy, looking to them for insights about the child.
Traditional Inuit customs expect women to endure labor without making noise and without taking pain medications, but these beliefs have relaxed a bit in modern Inuit societies, and many Inuit women birth their children in hospitals. In contrast, tradition dictates that mothers deliver their children in an aanigutyak, a hut built separately from the main house building. A midwife often assists Inuit mothers during childbirth.
A community shaman often blesses the newborn within eight days of the birth. During the baptism ritual, the shaman may give the child a name, commonly one that honors the baby's ancestors. Community members greet the infant with handshakes. The Inuit treat the newcomers just as they would the ancestors for which the children are named.
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