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Are There Jewish Customs for Pregnancy and Birth?

Are There Jewish Customs for Pregnancy and Birth?

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Question:

Is there a Jewish way for pregnancy? Are there any customs that I should be aware of? Is there anything my husband could or should do? This is our first baby, and we want to do this right!

Answer:

May you have an easy pregnancy, and may the birth be uneventful and in an auspicious time.

The months of pregnancy are a very precious and delicate time. As your doctor has surely informed you, the attitude, behavior and nutritional choices of the mother during this time have a profound impact on the health and future development of the fetus. Recent medical studies also point to the effects of the physical and emotional environment on the unborn baby. The pregnant woman should be surrounded by a positive, calm and tranquil atmosphere. Anger and anxiety should be avoided whenever possible.

The same is true with regards to the spiritual development of the embryo and fetus; the behavior of the mother as well as her environment have lifelong effects on the developing new life. Our sages encourage women to utilize the pregnancy months by increasing in good deeds and spiritual refinement.

Towards this end, the pregnant woman should attend synagogue services as often as possible, and participate in Torah study classes. (Click here to find a synagogue service and/or Torah class in your area.)

While all good deeds and mitzvot are beneficial to the unborn child, our sages specifically stress the value of giving extra charity. Being kind to others causes G‑d to treat us in corresponding fashion. In addition to the regular charity one distributes, charity should be given every day—having a charity box at home facilitates this practice. The most auspicious time to give charity is before the Shabbat or Jewish holiday candle-lighting. At that time additional charity should be given, considering that on the following day one will be unable to give charity, due to the restriction against handling money on these holy days.

Just as a pregnant woman must be meticulous regarding her nutritional needs, she must also be careful with her “spiritual nutrition.” Eating only kosher foods has an extremely positive impact on the fetus.

The following are some other pregnancy- and birth-related customs which are practiced by various Jewish communities:

  • Some have the custom to keep a pregnancy secret from friends and acquaintances until the onset of the fifth month, unless it becomes plainly apparent. This restriction does not include close family members.1
  • Some have the custom for the husband to open the synagogue ark before the Torah reading during the last month of pregnancy. The Zohar says, “When the congregation takes out the Torah Scroll, the Heavenly Gates of Mercy are opened, and G‑d’s love is aroused.” The husband opening the Gates of Heaven hopefully elicits G‑d’s merciful blessing that the birth be easy and without complications.
  • In certain communities it is customary for the pregnant woman to immerse in a mikvah sometime during the ninth month of pregnancy. Speak to your local rebbetzin or “mikvah lady” regarding planning and preparations. It is advisable to consult with your OB/GYN before going to the mikvah.
  • During the term of pregnancy, both mother and father should increase their recitation of Psalms.2
    Before going to bed, it is customary for the husband to recite Psalm 20. When finishing, he should repeat the second verse of the Psalm.
  • The home’s mezuzahs should be inspected by a scribe during the months of pregnancy. If one does not have mezuzahs on all the home’s doorways, now is a great time to purchase new mezuzahs.
  • A pregnant woman should endeavor to be exposed to spiritual and holy sights and sounds. To this end, whenever possible she should avoid gazing at non-kosher animals (trips to the zoo can wait until after birth . . . ),3 and listening to gossip, slander, or other unsavory talk.
  • In many communities, pregnant woman do not visit cemeteries. Perhaps this is to avoid settings which can lead to negative emotions.
  • There is an ancient custom for the pregnant woman to sew a sash (known as the gartel or wimple) for a Torah scroll. If the newborn is a son, the sash is used on the Torah from which he receives his Bar Mitzvah aliyah, and then once again the aliyah on the Shabbat before his wedding.
  • It is customary to have a copy of Psalm 121 on hand during birth. Click here for an easy-to-print version.
  • If possible, during the final stages of labor and delivery, the husband should recite these Psalms: 1, 2, 3, 4, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 33, 47, 72, 86, 90, 91, 92, 93, 104, 112, and 113 through 150.

Refer to the following links for more information on these topics:

Pregnancy
Birth
Charity
Shabbat and Holiday Candle-Lighting
Kosher
Opening the Ark
Mikvah
Inspecting Mezuzahs

Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski,
Chabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

This is a Chabad-Lubavitch custom. While no reason is given for this custom, some have speculated that it is intended to avoid bringing any unnecessary attention to the unborn child. Click here for more on this topic.

2.

The Book of Psalms is divided into thirty sections, with one section customarily recited on each day of the Jewish month. If not yet practicing this custom, now is certainly a good time to start. (Click here to read the daily Psalms in Hebrew and English.) During pregnancy, it is appropriate to add some extra Psalms, in addition to the standard daily regimen.

3.

While all animals are G‑d’s creatures and have a Divine purpose, non-kosher animals have certain negative traits which are best avoided.

Chana & Dovid Zaklikowski are the proud parents of four: Motty, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin. Dovid is the director of Lubavitch Archives.
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Discussion (24)
November 11, 2013
To Hadassah regarding Positivity
Hadassah - How nice to hear from you on this topic. I thought it had probably been put to rest by now. I don't know if your remarks were directed at me but if they were, I think I was pretty clear about the fact that we should all respect other's beliefs. The caveat here, however, is that it has to work both ways.. If looking at non-kosher animals at the zoo is offensive to a pregnant woman and her beliefs, then she should not look at the animals. On the other hand, if l, when I was pregnant, wanted to look at the non-kosher animals at the zoo, that was my prerogative. Please don't put my beliefs down and tell me that I am any less of a Jew than you are. My babies turned out just fine and were not influenced negatively because of my looking at any non-kosher animals when I was pregnant. We all have choices to make. Let us live in harmony and respect each other's choices. I think that is the real message here.
Barbara Niles
Phoenix, Arizona
November 4, 2013
Positivity
This article is about customs that people may or may not choose to do, there is no reason to bash any of these traditions that Jews have been doing for thousands of years. Calling them nonsense is disrespectful, just like a person doesn't want to be disrespected for not observing Jewish customs, others don't want to be disrespected for honoring them as well. If you don't want to do them, that is perfectly fine, but I think we should keep the comment positive, look at a pig, don't look at pig....we are talking about bringing new Jewish life into the world, one of the holiest mitzvot that we do!
Hadassah
Boston
October 24, 2012
To Anonymous Re: Negative Energy, etc.
Do i detect a bit of sarcasm in your reply? Again, beliefs are a personal choice. Even if I don't agree with your choice to believe what you want and to remain anonymous, I respect your choice to do so. Along the same lines, I would hope that you respect my beliefs and choices too. The fact that I look at all the animals in the zoo and would do so even if I were pregnant does not mean that I am less sensitive than you are or less tuned in. And P.S., humanity will be fine and survive regardless of who looks at what animals during pregnancy!
Barbara Niles
Phoenix, AZ
October 23, 2012
Negative energy etc.
This comment is directed to those who think like Barbara: some people tune into the metaphysical, some do not. For those who do not, no amount of spiritual explanation will convince them that staring at kosher animals and birds- herbivores- leads to less insensitivity than does staring at animals and birds that are most often carnivores or omnivores.There's no point in trying to convince them otherwise.They either tune into it or don't. If they don't, they often consider it superstition. What else is new?Best wishes to all humanity.
Anonymous
Brooklyn, N.Y.
February 25, 2012
Question
I am pregnant with my second child. I was raised a "traditional American Christian" and am extremely new in my research to my Hebraic/Jewish roots, so forgive me in advance if I say anything wrong.

My question is as follows:
About 1 month after we found out we were pregnant, we were involved in a rear-end collision. I was fine, other than experiencing some severe whiplash. However, the other driver is denying liability and now we're trying to find an attorney in order to file a lawsuit. Also, my father-in-law passed away recently. These are all factors completely out of my control, yet they are bringing heavy emotional stress for me, and I KNOW that somehow affects my baby. I am trying to keep "praying without ceasing" and fully trusting Father, but some days are just so emotionally/mentally challenging, and I find myself eating not-so-healthy foods....

Any suggestions for helping to handle these stresses? Thanks in advance!
Mrs. Dickson
Lubbock, TX/USA
February 24, 2012
To Shoshana
My Dear Shoshana - You sound like a very intelligent, well-educated woman but a bit insular. One of the wonderful things about being Jewish is being able to pick and choose those Jewish rituals and customs that fit our individual lifestyles. Yes, I know that we have certain obligations such as mitzvot to perform but we also have the freedom of choice. My not keeping the laws of kashrut does not make me any less of a Jew than you are. You choose to follow whatever practices you do and I choose to follow whatever ones I do. To me, there are so many customs, rituals, laws, rules, and regulations that are no longer relebant in today's society for various reasons. However, if you choose to follow each and every one, that is all right and again, your choice. In spite of our differences, I do enjoy our discussions! Barbara.
Barbara Niles
Phoenix, Arizona
February 19, 2012
Dear Barbara
I would like to change the subject now to something much, much, more important. You mentioned that you are not sure if the laws of kashrut are relevant today. My dear friend and sister (all Jews are brothers and sisters because we are all from the same father and mother, Abraham and Sarah), the laws of kosher and non-kosher are as relevant today as they were when given on Mt.Sinai 3,300 years ago. And we are told that these laws are "our life and the length of our days" ("ki heim chaiyeinu"). You say that it is a matter of personal choice. We are given free choice, but told "choose life". In truth, every Jew is obligated to follow the Torah that G-d gave us, and that we accepted, at Mt. Sinai.
Shoshana
Jerusalem, Israel
February 10, 2012
re: energy - moish
You are correct. The word "energy" was not used in the original article; however, it has been used to discuss why looking at non-kosher animals can affect the fetus.

Perhaps the best thing for pregnant women to do is to take care of themselves during the nine months of carrying the baby is to just take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. I still don't understand how looking at non-kosher animals in at the zoo can really make a difference in the child's future development.
Barbara Niles
Phoenix, Arizona
February 8, 2012
re. energy
I do not see the word energy or the like mentioned in the actual article.

You may want to read this article in Time Magazine:

How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2021065,00.html#ixzz1lns9Nlao
moish
February 7, 2012
To Hanna & Shoshana
I do understand the rules about not eating non-kosher animals although I'm not sure those rules are relevant today. I consider it a personal choice. But, to say that non-kosher animals in a zoo give off negative energy to a child in its mother's womb is just plain nonsense no matter how you define energy.

Perhaps there should be kosher and non-kosher zoos and then the problem would not arise. Hmm - I can only imagine how small the non-kosher zoos would be!

Personally, I love going to the zoo and looking at all the animals but then, I'm not pregnant --- or would you-all say that it doesn't matter if a woman is pregnant or not. Any or all of us (women and men) could be affected by this so-called negative energy if that is the case. Then we all may be in trouble.
Barbara Niles
Phoenix, Arizona
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