The following article discusses some of the laws and customs relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and laws that pertain to a woman who has recently given birth.
Customs During Pregnancy
- During pregnancy, a woman should be especially scrupulous in following the laws of kosher, as the food she eats also nourishes the developing baby.
- During the first three months of pregnancy, it is best that the couple not tell anyone of the pregnancy, even close family and friends. This ensures modesty and protects mother and child from "the evil eye." (See Why Do They Hide Their Pregnancy?) Obviously, a woman may share the information with her doctor and/or other professionals as needed.
- During the fourth month, it is customary to inform close family and friends of the pregnancy. After this time, the matter is no longer considered a secret.
- Another practice related to the evil eye is to refrain from purchasing significant items for the baby before it is born, except for the items that will be needed immediately upon the baby's birth.
- A pregnant woman should be particular to give charity every day, as well as on Friday and the afternoons preceding Jewish holidays before lighting the Shabbat or holiday candles. A woman who was already doing this regularly should add to her usual amount, preferably by adding a quantity that is (a multiple of) eighteen.
- Before retiring to bed at night, the husband should recite Psalm 20 and then repeat the second verse of that Psalm.
- During the course of the pregnancy, it is a good idea to check the mezuzot in the home.
- The expectant mother should be careful to not gaze at non-kosher animals and other impure things. This is because of the deep impact these sights can have on unborn children.
- Tests which are known to pose a danger to the fetus, such as amniocentesis, should certainly be avoided, if at all possible.
Fasting During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman should be particular to give charity every day
- When a woman is pregnant, she need not fast on any of the yearly fast days other than Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur.
- On Tisha B'Av, a pregnant woman should attempt to fast. If her doctor says that this poses a risk, she should not fast. If in the course of fasting she becomes sick or feels that she must eat, she may do so. One should consult with a rabbi in this regard.
- Before Yom Kippur, an expectant mother should discuss the feasibility of fasting with her doctor and rabbi. If it is, or becomes, necessary to eat and drink during Yom Kippur, she should do so in small portions, at given intervals. Specifically, she should eat less than an ounce of solid and drink less than a cheek-full of liquid, wait nine minutes, and then repeat as needed. This way, she still fulfills the Biblical requirement of fasting.
From the Torah viewpoint, G‑d, in His wisdom, knows the best time for a baby to be born, and therefore we should not intervene unnecessarily by inducing an early labor. In addition, since childbirth is a potentially life-threatening situation, one should not bring this on earlier than necessary. If the baby is overdue to the extent that its life is in jeopardy, or if there is any other medical emergency, it is certainly not forbidden to induce labor. A doctor and rabbi should be consulted.
Giving Birth on Shabbat
Since labor and delivery are considered life-endangering states, one must, when necessary, desecrate the Shabbat to ensure a healthy birthing process. But since labor and delivery are natural phenomena, it is best to minimize the desecration as much as possible. Due to spatial constraints, I will only give several applications of this law.
- A woman may travel to the hospital or birthing center on Shabbat when she feels that the birth is imminent.
- If possible, one should arrange for a non-Jewish (taxi) driver.
- It is best to set aside, before Shabbat, an envelope containing the amount of money needed to pay the taxi driver. If there is time, the driver should be shown to that envelope and he should take it himself.
- In order to put the soon-to-be mother's mind at rest, it is permissible for her husband, other relative, friend, or coach to accompany her in the taxi or ambulance.
- One should ask a non-Jew to open and close the car (taxi) doors. If this is not possible, one should do it in an unusual manner.
- If one is not within an eruv, s/he should carry to the car (and into the hospital) only the necessary essentials.
- Upon arrival in the hospital, it is better to refrain from signing. If there is no choice, one may sign with one's left hand.
During the Labor
- Time permitting, it is customary for the husband to recite, during labor and delivery, Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 33, 47, 72, 86, 90, 91, 92, 93, 104, 112, and 113 through 150.
When a woman delivers naturally, she enters a state of niddah. This begins from the first sign of blood or from when she feels that the delivery is imminent. The niddah state lasts for seven days after the birth of a boy and fourteen days after the birth of a girl. However, going to the mikvah is usually delayed for much longer as most doctors today recommend that women wait at least six weeks before resuming marital relations. This should be discussed with one's doctor.
The niddah state lasts for seven days after the birth of a boy and fourteen days after the birth of a girlFrom the time a woman becomes a niddah, her husband may not see the parts of her body that are normally covered. It is therefore improper for a husband to watch the actual birth of his child. In fact, the Rebbe felt that for this reason the husband should not be in the delivery room at all during the birth. Obviously, if there is no one else to aid his wife, he may do so, but he should try as much as possible not to look at intimate parts of her body, as explained.
If a woman has a baby via Caesarean section, she is not rendered a niddah unless and until she bleeds vaginally.
Blessings Upon Birth
When hearing the news that one's wife gave birth to baby boy, the father should thank G‑d by saying the blessing of HaTov VeHameitiv: "Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who is good and bestows good."
The blessing one should recite upon having a baby girl is Shehecheyanu: "Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has allowed us to live, has preserved us, and has enabled us to reach this season." (This blessing, however, should only be recited upon actually seeing the baby girl.)
These blessings may be recited by the mother as well (when she is in a respectable mode of dress).
It is customary to hang a card with the prayer of Shir HaMa'alot (Psalm 121), as well as other prayers, in the room of the mother and baby. (Click here for a printable version.) The purpose of this is to expose the child to holy sights from the very beginning of his or her life. Even while still in the hospital, the parents should do their best to hang this prayer on the wall near the door of the room.
It is important not to lose one's temper in the presence of a new mother and her baby. Doing so might adversely affect them, G‑d forbid.
A brit milah (ritual circumcision) should be planned if the baby is a boy (see The Mitzvah of Circumcision). If the baby is a firstborn boy, a pidyon haben ("Redemption of the Son") should be planned (see Pidyon Haben for more information). If the baby is a girl, the parents should arrange a feast celebrating her birth.
See Jewish Names regarding choosing a name for the newborn.
It is customary for the new mother not to leave the house without accompaniment for seven days after having a baby. However, the baby is considered an accompaniment for this purpose.
Fasting After Having a Baby
Women who have had a baby are exempt from most fasts for two years following the birth. The two exceptions to this rule are Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur. The following rules apply to those fasts:
A woman who has had a baby should thank G‑d for having protected her and her baby from harm
- If the birth was within the three days leading up to the fast, the mother should not fast.
- If the birth was within seven days leading up to the fast, she also should not fast unless both she and her doctor are sure that she is up to it. If not, the mother should eat the quantities of food and drink described above at the intervals described above.
The HaGomel Blessing
A woman who has had a baby should thank G‑d for having protected her and her baby from harm. In some communities, women say the blessing of HaGomel in the presence of ten male relatives or while staying in the women's section of the synagogue within earshot of ten men. In other communities, the mother's first trip out of the home after having the baby is to the synagogue to hear Barchu being recited. When she responds to this blessing by saying "Baruch Adonai hamevorach le'olam va'ed" ("Blessed be the blessed G‑d forever and ever"), she should have in mind that she is thanking G‑d for protecting her.