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Childbirth Customs

Childbirth Customs

Traditionally, when a woman realised she was pregnant, she would tell her mother-in-law first, then her husband and lastly her mother. Thereafter, the whole family would assist tending to her needs, as opposed to her tending to theirs. 

Baby eats, feels, thinks and sees what mom eats, feels, thinks and sees.
The mom-to-be was expected to only look at ‘beautiful’ things and to not look on ‘dead’ things such as flowers, animals, etc. Everything she ate, felt, thought or saw could influence the physical characteristics of the baby. She could only eat foods that were unblemished and had to avoid broken or crooked pieces of fruit, vegetable, etc. Pregnant women were not allowed to eat duck because the baby might be born with webbed feet if she did. She would not eat tofu, because "it falls apart too easily". During this period, the family made sure that negative events in the family were kept from her so that she would only have ‘good’ thoughts.

Predicting gender
If a woman’s abdomen sticks out roundly, the older members of the family would announce that it was a girl, while a flat stomach indicated she was carrying a boy. During the last few months of pregnancy, the woman’s abdomen would be bound in order to support the weight.

During labour, the mother-to-be would be given a cloth to bite into and she would hang onto ropes hung from the ceiling to help her with pushing. She was expected to be silent so as to focus all her body energy into ‘chi’ – natural energy.

Men would await the news of the delivery together in another location, while the woman was tended my the mother-in-law, her own mother, sisters-in-law who already had children and elder women from the village or the district.

A straw rope would be tied at the doorframe of the house to announce the birth with chili peppers laced within for a boy, and for a girl, charcoal. Once people saw the ‘announcement’ they would stay away for a period of time – usually 21 to 100 days.
The placenta would be kept, then burned. The ashes would be saved to be used as a powder mixed in liquid for a healing potion whenever the child fell ill.

The mother would drink seaweed soup (myuk-guk) as her first meal following the birth – this is still common. And because of its healthful properties, might have it three times a day over the next 2-3 months.  It is not uncommon to hear mothers say “To think I ate seaweed soup for you” when they are disappointed in their child’s behaviour.

Following childbirth, women were not supposed to eat any hot or cold food (and no ice chips during labour).

For about 30 to 40 days after birth, the mother would be excused from work in order to give her body time to recuperate. During that period, she was allowed to go outside and could not put her hands or feet into cold water.

Babies would be bundled up in warm clothing, even in summer, to make sure they would not catch cold.
The father-in-law would name the baby with the name carrying a "wish" for the child’s life. Names usually had two syllable with all sons having the same syllables, with a pattern going back many generations, even tracing back to the family’s founding father. 
Korean women would carry their children on their back – with the baby’s face against her back, thus aligning the hearts of mother and child. Grandmothers still do this, as do some mothers, especially in the countryside.

Parents would normally sleep with their newborn, a custom that is still common today.

The baby’s legs were massed in order to help them grow.

Photo of Seaweed Soup

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