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Childbirth Rituals

Pregnancy is a cause of happiness as well as anxiety in Sri Lanka. There is great hope and fear associated with childbirth. Buddhist people believe that to have or not to have offspring is something determined by the will of the Gods or one’s own Karma. Here are some of the common customs of childbirth:

Childbirth Superstitions - Preparation of clothing for the baby is done with great care. In some Sinhala families the pregnant mother is not allowed to sew any clothing for the baby. Even when others sew a piece of clothing they make it a point to complete the item by leaving some part unfinished. This is due to the fear that wrath of the Gods will be aroused if the family assumes that the child will definitely be born. Baby showers are not a part of Sri Lankan culture.When a child is born the precise time of birth is recorded so that astrologers can cast his or her horoscope. The time is also used to determine the first letter of the name that the child will be given. Before the baby is fed it is customary to perform a traditional rite where some gold milk is applied on the mouth of the baby. The gold milk is prepared by rubbing an article of gold such as a ring in a drop of milk taken from the mother.

The Pregnant Mother - During her pregnancy a woman is encouraged to listen to the chanting of spiritual verses. A sacred piece of thread is tied around her hand.

Dola Duka - Some pregnant women express an unusual desire to eat certain foods. In the Sinhala language this is known as Dola Duka. Elders will prepare foods and try to appease the woman, for there is a superstition that if the Dola Duka is not appeased the new born baby will have to pay for it.

The Midwife - Seventy years ago most mothers gave birth within the confines of their own homes. It is the midwife who gave the announcement to the world whether it is a girl or a boy. When a midwife delivered a baby she uttered one of two things: sarama (sarong) or kambaya (denoting an article of cloth). Sarama meant that the infant was a boy whereas the Kambaya meant the infant was a female.

Ayurveda and Post - Natal care - The infant is kept near the mother. This physical contact of the mother and child increases the love and affection for the child and that brings an easy flow of milk. It also gives the child the needed warmth and strength and makes it feel secure. When a nursing mother does not have enough milk for a baby she is advised to seek out the help of another who is lactating. These women are known as Dhathri.