Traditional beliefs and rituals surrounding pregnancy and childbirth in Bangladesh

Like many other cultures and civilisations around the world Bangladeshi people have their own traditions and beliefs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.  Pregnancy in Bangladesh is seen as a condition in which women are expected to proceed with caution. Even from an early stage expectant mums naturally seem to take life at a slower pace.  It has often amused me that being with child is akin to a sort of mild but enduring illness, where women are encouraged to rest, sit and wait patiently to recover.

Pregnancy and food…..

Amongst my Bangladeshi (Chittagonian) family I have been encouraged to eat a lot! (I haven’t disappointed as I have put on almost 13kg so far!) Only a few foods have been off limits – tea-leaf tea or cha (too much caffeine) and anarosh (pineapple) which is thought to bring on early contractions (a belief similarly followed in other cultures).  Having dipped into the reams of “official” dietary advice available on-line their helpful guidance seems to tally with the professionals.  Here there are no fears about undercooked meats (particularly beef) as all meats are cooked through in curry style dishes.  Fears of blue-veined, bacteria encrusted cheeses are also a non-issue as these are not enjoyed by the locals.   My Apu (Nufel’s elder sister) encourages me to eat one egg and a glass of milk a day and in the early weeks she made a point of sending me some tamarind sweets to suckle to help with the sickness.  Bangladeshi women traditionally enjoy sour foods in pregnancy including pickles to satisfy cravings.

My doctor has advised me not to eat raw vegetables or fruits that I cannot peel.  Dirty water used for “sprucing up” tired leaves and the humble potato carries obvious dangers for people – pregnant or otherwise.  For vegetables and fruits sold in the market stalls, there is also a widespread practice of formalin use – a chemical containing formaldehyde solution which prolongs the shelf-life of these degradable foods. Hence caution is justified.

Pregnancy and superstitions…

In truth I expected many Bangladeshis to feel auspicious about pregnancy – I am not sure why, perhaps it was solely due to a sense of heightened piety in Bangladesh.  Like with marriage where there is often a mixture of strong religious and cultural traditions the creation of a new life is a similarly significant event in which I expected similar rituals.   I have heard of a number of beliefs about what women should or could do to bring good luck or to remain healthy and safe in pregnancy but I suspect that I have only scratched the surface of these myths and traditions. I suspect that as a foreigner and a non-muslim my exposure to some Islamic and or cultural practices is limited.  My reading about Bangladesh and its communities also suggest that myths and traditions in lower caste communities are much stronger where education, particularly in relation to pregnancy and birth is limited and faith and/or hope is essential as a coping mechanism for daily living.  Many women in rural or slum communities have a fatalistic attitude towards pregnancy and put their faith and trust in Allah in the event of an emergency.

Amongst my social and family circle here are a few common beliefs I have come across:

  1.  Pregnant women, (as well as ill people) can wear specially ‘blessed’ ribbons around their stomachs to protect the baby from harm and to give good luck.
  2. Pregnant women are encouraged to look at cute baby pictures as it is believed that this will increase the chance of you having a handsome/beautiful baby.
  3. Pregnant women should avoid sitting or sleeping in corners as they will be caught by an ‘evil eye’ (chokh/nojor laga).
  4. Women should keep their baby bumps covered as much as possible to prevent an evil or bad eye.
  5. Many women keep their pregnancy secret as people may give an evil eye ie.look on with jealousy which could channel negative energy towards the baby.
  6. It is believed that the prayers of pregnant women will be heard by Allah over and above those of other individuals.  Since I have been pregnant I have had random requests – to pray for good exam papers and even a request from a student for me to pray for her father to bring an IPAD back for her from the USA!

Pregnancy and the baby shower/Shad

My friends in Bangladesh surprised me with a baby shower on the 28th June 2013.  Here, as I have learned, baby showers known as ‘shad’ take place during the seventh month of pregnancy and traditionally centre on the Mother-to-be and her impending delivery rather than the baby.  Women sit together to exchange advice about childbirth and childcare and offer positive words, prayers and good wishes for the baby.  At my event our friends were very generous – they bought and dressed me in a saree and we enjoyed delicious local foods including sweets and a special “Emma Mummy” cake to mark the occasion.  Here are one or two pictures that were taken:

Baby shower at Nazma's home

All the lovely ladies together...

All the lovely ladies together…

Beliefs and superstitions aside I left work to go on maternity leave on the 4th July 2013.  On this occasion – as per tradition, I was given a wonderful send off:

Now that I am a full-time housewife and mummy-to-be I hope to dedicate more time to my writing – particularly my blog!

Me in my 28th week of pregnancy

Me in my 28th week of pregnancy

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4 Responses to Traditional beliefs and rituals surrounding pregnancy and childbirth in Bangladesh

  1. Tricia says:

    Oh Emma what can I say, so interesting and so intelligently written, If I were your mum I would be so proud of you, would love your mum to see this cos not sure she knows the true talent of her daughter, please share this with her one day. I will be the first to buy your first book (signed of course.) Really Emma I am serious, I have an Indian friend he is an author, his book is about growing up within an unsuitable!? caste, he is now a Dr and his book was amazing, your blog reminds me of his book, would you mind if I share your blog with him ? x

  2. Tricia please do go ahead and share my blog! I’d appreciate the feedback. I am pleased you are still following my story – I’m sure one day Mum would like read it!

  3. Pratiti Shirin says:

    Send offs aren’t traditional…not in a country in which women “traditionally’ don’t work, dear. It’s something I read in your blog for the first time.Also, baby showers aren’t traditional. It’s something imported from the western culture.In a country in which people cannot keep track of the number of children they are having, where’s the wish or will for an unwanted pregnancy?Also, never heard of the word Shad…probably Chittagonian. They have customs which don’t match with the rest of the Bangladeshi culture. I read the other articles as well.Esp. the one about Apollo. What you wrote, is a long known truth…that private hospitals are money suckers..but still, your effort at writing is good…keep going and best of luck!

  4. Wasif says:

    I find all the common “beliefs” laughable. I think it might have to do with my family but I have never heard of any of those. Might be more prevalent in more uneducated backgrounds – cannot really say.

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