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Around the World Series | Traditional Australian Aboriginal birthing practices.


In recognition of NAIDOC week, we explore the postpartum practices and rituals of traditional Australian Aboriginal birthing practices.

Some examples of practices and rituals found within the Australian Aboriginal culture include:

  • Delivery of baby
  • Cleansing of woman and baby
  • Bath in sand
  • Smoking ceremonies

Delivery of baby

In both the Great Victoria Desert and in northern Western Australia, Australian Aboriginal women often birthed their baby underneath a tree in a small hole. This allowed a space for blood clots and the placenta to be collected. Placentas were often considered as 'dangerous' to Australian Aboriginal men and were buried, and never discussed among men.

Cleansing of woman and baby

In North Queensland, some Australian Aboriginal women cleansed themselves by crouching over a fire of acacia leaves and sandalwood chips. After this, the woman and baby are painted with white ochre and set in front of an Iron Wood tree with the mother's legs open over a lit fire. Individuals would often throw water directly in the fire to allow smoke to enter the woman's uterus.

Bath in sand

In the Boulia district of Queensland, some babies were dusted with charcoal and sand. To protect the baby from insects, the baby was frequently cleaned with the warm ash from the fire used to cleanse the mother's uterus before being applied with goanna fat and white ochre.

Smoking ceremonies

Some Australian Aboriginal women welcome the baby by smoking the baby over steamed ironwood leaves. The heat pressed against the baby's body from the ironwood leaves is believed to strengthen the baby. Smoking ceremonies date back 60,000 years and are still practiced by women in Central Australia today. Not all Aboriginal women adhere to or perform traditional birthing practices and rituals.

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In regards to our culture of postpartum practices and rituals of traditional Chinese birthing practices, one of the post-natal rituals is to follow the ancient Chinese tradition of ‘sitting the month’ (坐月子 – zuò yuè zi), also known as 30 days confinement for mama. This month is taken to strengthen the mama after giving birth to baby much like the importance of cleansing the woman with acacia leaves and sandalwood chips in the Australian Aboriginal culture.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/17/cultural-birthing-practices-are-what-indigenous-women-need-its-time-we-invested

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/215781043_Traditional_Aboriginal

_birthing_practices_in_Australia_Past_and_present

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