When you have a kid, you're suddenly swept into all kinds of family customs. American moms from other cultures share the sweet, funny, and unusual baby rituals they trace back to their homelands.
Jenny Park Derry, mom to twins Kai and Rhys, 11 months; Reston, Virginia
Seaweed soup was a staple food for me back when I was pregnant with my twins and after they were born. I ate a ton of it! It's made with seaweed, sesame oil, garlic, and beef, and it's thought to help with milk production. Nursing is widely practiced in South Korea, where people believe strongly in the nutrition it provides and the bonding it promotes. My mother helped me a great deal, teaching me how to have the babies latch on and massaging my breasts to make the milk circulate better. I had a lactation consultant, so I basically knew what to do, but when my breasts were hurting the most, my mother would sit with me all day. Korean mothers, in general, are incredibly supportive!
Many years ago, a lot of Korean babies wouldn't survive past 100 days, so that milestone is still significant in our culture. Even today, new parents hold a 100-day celebration for their babies and invite lots of friends and family.
It's believed that if you share special food with 100 people, the babies will have a long and healthy life, so it can be a bigger occasion than even a first birthday party. We held ours at a restaurant. Since we had twins, I worried they wouldn't grow at the same rate as other kids, but when they turned 100 days old, I trusted they were going to be healthy and strong and just fine. My husband, James, is a Korean adoptee, and growing up, he wasn't exposed to many Korean customs. It meant so much to both of us that we could have this very traditional ritual for our boys.
Sarah Smith, mom to Anahera, 2; New York City
I knew I wanted to give birth in my home country, although I've lived in the United States for 12 years. I am Maori, and I feel very connected to my land and culture. I wanted my mother to be with me. Plus, New Zealand has a more supportive health-care system for new mothers. So off I flew, eight months pregnant -- the cutoff to travel -- and I stayed for eight months before returning to New York.
It's Maori tradition to plant the baby's placenta on the land your ancestors came from, as a way to tie generations together. With urbanization, Maoris don't always follow this practice, but I'm lucky because my family still has some ancestral property. So, before I went into labor, I told the midwife that I wanted my placenta. The nurses gave it to me, and I kept it carefully wrapped up in newspaper and in a freezer by itself.
Our daughter Anahera was born at the end of November, and we planted the placenta at Christmastime. Some families mark the ground and others plant near a landmark, such as a tree. Often families plant all around the same tree. We decided to bury Anahera's placenta between a tree and another plant. I know where it is, but it's discreet.
The ceremony itself was quite private -- my mother, my partner, our baby, and me. We took turns digging the hole. I placed the placenta in a bowl I'd made from flax leaves that grew nearby and put it in the pit. Then we all touched the soil. Once it was buried, my mother said a prayer in Maori thanking our ancestors for her granddaughter. We sang and hugged. Now Anahera is connected to that land, even though she'll be raised on the other side of the world.
Shooshig Susan Avakian, mom to Haroot, 17 months, and Daron, 5 months; Sunland, California
If you gaze often at a cute baby's picture when you're pregnant, your baby will look like him or her. That's an Armenian belief. While pregnant with Haroot, I spotted a photo of a beautiful baby in a cord-blood ad in a magazine at my ob-gyn's office. I ripped it out and put it on my night table so I would see it when I woke up. I wanted my son to have blue eyes and blond hair. I'm not sure if it was genes or the picture, but he does! My Armenian friends and family told me you don't need to do that when you're pregnant with your second child. Because you look at your first baby all day, your children will look alike. And my sons really do.
After a baby is born, Armenians don't take him out of the house for the first 40 days. Family members and friends come to you. After that, the child is of age and you bring him to church for the priest's blessing. I was able to keep Haroot home, but we barely made it to day 20 with my second. We had to go to the doctor and run errands, and it was difficult to be cooped up with a toddler. But we found a way to honor the tradition: We didn't take Daron to anyone else's home until after 40 days.
When Haroot got his first tooth, we had a ceremony called Agra Hadig. We placed him on the floor with symbolic items all around him: medicine, a spatula, a pencil, a book. We let him play for a bit. Then we poured cooled barley pearls onto a lace cloth held over his head. Whichever item he picked up after that would symbolize his future. He chose a tape measure, which we decided means he'll be an architect or engineer. Time will tell!
Tiyash Bandyupadhyay, mom to Asanshay, 5, and Utshaho, 2; Atlanta, Georgia
When each son started solids, we held a ceremony called Annaprasan. In India, the mom's brother gets the honor of serving the baby payesh (rice and milk, often boiled with sugar). We don't usually hold baby showers, so this is the first celebration with gifts. I'm fascinated with differences between Indian and American customs, which is part of why I started bloggermoms.com, a site about raising multicultural kids.
Like the Armenian tradition, we also present a baby with a tray of items, each representing qualities the baby might acquire as he grows. We added a tablet PC stylus pen because computers are so important. Our eldest chose that first. Grandparents can be funny at the Annaprasan! If they want the baby to pick a certain thing, such as money, they'll place it in an attractive spot. They try to rig it!
Raegan Moya-Jones, mom to Anais, 7, Lourdes, 5, Arin, 3, and Amelie Rose, 9 months; Brooklyn, New York
Because Australia is so warm, we care for babies a bit differently. In America, until an infant's umbilical cord falls off, you give her only sponge baths, but in Australia a baby is dunked in water from the moment she's born. All my children loved baths. They also loved being swaddled. My friends back in Australia wrap their babies with muslin, which is a gauzy, breathable fabric. Once I tried it, I felt so strongly about it, I started a business selling my Aden & Anais wraps.
We tend to feed babies different food too. When most Americans see a jar of vegemite -- a black-paste yeast extract carried in every Australian grocery store -- they imagine it must be the most horrid thing, but it's yummy and one of the first things an Australian baby eats. It's full of vitamins and minerals and considered really healthy. My kids have a vegemite sandwich every day!
When we have birthday parties, we serve Fairy Bread, which is very Australian. It's basically white toast with butter and rainbow sprinkles. American kids think it's weird at first, but they always love it when they try it.
Liz Bacelar, mom to Gabriela, 2; Ardsley, New York
Pregnancy cravings are taken very seriously in Brazil. It's believed that if you don't eat what you want right away, your child will resemble that food. It's your husband's duty to get you what you yearn for, even in the middle of the night. I mostly craved watermelon and dark chocolate. I remember my husband sometimes asking, "Can we get it tomorrow?" The answer was usually no! Once, I even made him pull off the highway. It was midnight and we were somewhere in Queens, and I needed to eat watermelon immediately.
I decided to have a home birth. It was somewhat un-Brazilian -- these days, that country has a high rate of C-sections, but I wanted something more natural. Crazy as it sounds, I baked pumpkin cupcakes during my contractions. I had to, out of a sense of duty! After a birth, all the relatives come to visit, and I was anticipating a large crowd, because I have a big family. In our tradition, no one comes for less than 30 minutes. They linger. New parents are expected to receive visitors and give them a parting gift, sort of like a goodie bag. So I gave everyone those cupcakes and a photo of my new daughter.
As Gabriela grew, I remembered other customs. For instance, when a Brazilian baby hiccups, you take a thread from her clothing or blanket, lick it, and put it on her forehead. It's supposed to make the hiccups go away. You don't touch the string until they stop. When my mom did that with my 2-day-old daughter, I had a sudden flashback to me putting strings on my younger siblings. It becomes a sign of love!
DID YOU KNOW?
In Mexico, it's common for pregnant women to crave a mug of champurrado -- a thick hot chocolate made with masa (dried, ground corn).
New Dutch mothers traditionally receive beschuit met muisjes, biscuits sprinkled with sugar-coated anise seeds. Anise seeds are thought to help stimulate breast milk production.
In certain parts of Ethiopia, a baby is expected to sneeze as soon as she's born. If she doesn't, a thread is used to tickle her nostrils.
In Turkey, people speculate that a woman is carrying a boy if she craves sweets, a girl if she prefers spicy foods.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.