Muslims: Birth, Babies And Motherhood
The birth of a new child is a time of great rejoicing in the Muslim community as they are a sign of favour from Allah. Children are often referred to in Islam as 'wealth'.
after the birth
Wash babies immediately after birth to remove all impurities. The first sound that a baby hears ought to be its father (or male relative) whispering the call to prayer or adhan into the right ear and then the left ear. This helps the baby to understand its duty to Allah from the very start of its independent life.
Traditionally, if a baby cries during the necessary post-birth health checks, it is comforted by placing a date in its mouth to suck on. The sweetness of the date welcomes the child to the sweetness of leading a good life. Honey may also be used to welcome the child, whether it cries or not. Some Muslims believe that it is an honour to be the one to place honey or dates onto the child's tongue because some of their qualities are transferred to the child. This person may then be regarded as equivalent to a 'godparent' to the child.
Between three and seven days after birth, the baby's head is shaved to remove the impurities of birth and encourage a thick head of hair. This ceremony is called the aqiqah and it also symbolises the removal of misfortunes from the child, so that it can start its independent life with a clean slate. The hair is generally collected and weighed. The weight of the hair in silver is then given to the poor. Afterwards, the hair is often buried. Some Muslims may also sacrifice an animal at this point and distribute the meat to the rest of their community as a celebration of the birth.
Babies also receive their proper name on this day. Children are rarely named at birth in order to give their parents a chance to decide on the best name for them. Until this point, boys are given one of the names of Allah, and girls are often called Fatima after the Prophet's daughter. The choice of name is taken very seriously as it is thought to influence the future character and behaviour of the child. The local imam may be consulted, and one of the 99 names of Allah proposed if the child is a boy. The naming ceremony is important and has great religious significance. Make sure the child's clinical notes are updated with their proper name.
Boys are usually circumcised within four weeks of their birth. This ritual may be part of their naming ceremony, and is usually carried out in the home. Receiving a name, the aqiqah and circumcision (khitan) are the first major religious events of a child's life and serve to bring them into the Muslim community right from the start of their life.
Muslim women are regarded as weakened by childbirth, and traditionally do not leave the house for 40 days after the event. Try not to make appointments at a clinic during this time, if it means a mother having to leave her house; home visits may be better.
A Muslim woman may feel that she alone is to blame for a miscarriage, usually because of 'past sins' catching up with her. Some women may find it comforting to know that there are many causes for miscarriage, and it is not likely to have resulted from anything that she has 'done wrong'.
If this is not the first miscarriage that the woman has had, then suggest that she discusses the possibility of having some tests done with her husband and their doctor to try to prevent any further losses.
If the child was lost after the fourth month of pregnancy and has 'human form' (that is, has shown obvious development beyond being a ball of cells), then it must be buried according to custom rather than incinerated. Parents will probably name the child as well.
If the baby has a 'human form' and/or is delivered after the soul has inhabited the flesh (about 4 months), then the child must be given a name and buried according to Muslim customs, rather than disposed of. The placenta is considered to be human flesh and so this too must be buried rather than incinerated.
If a baby is born prematurely, it is important that a few minutes are allowed for the parents to complete their birth rituals, such as saying the adhan into the ears of the child – as long as this poses no immediate threat to the life of the child. Obviously, ceremonies such as circumcision for male children will be delayed until the child is strong enough, but it is very important for Muslim parents that their child is welcomed into this world by the holy words of the adhan.
Breastfeeding is encouraged for new mothers and is even mentioned in the Qur'an as the best way to care for a child. Weaning usually takes place at about two years of age. A Muslim mother may be willing to discuss breastfeeding with another woman, but will only breastfeed in private.
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