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!
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.
- 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.
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 . . . ), 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:
Shabbat and Holiday Candle-Lighting
Opening the Ark
Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski,