Childbirth Wisdom From The World’s Oldest Societies
By Judith Goldsmith
Judith Goldsmith researched this wonderful book in the 1970s in the Cal State Long Beach and UC Berkeley anthropology libraries and found five hundred sources detailing customs involving childbearing and childrearing among traditional peoples around the globe.
The diet sections are fairly short, but do reference Weston Price several times. Instead, Goldsmith focuses on pregnancy, normal and difficult births, the role of the midwife, care of the newborn, recovery care of the mother, breastfeeding and ceremonies of childbirth, in the hope that the wisdom of these ways can be integrated into modern childbirth and childrearing practices.
Goldsmith notes that tribal women were physically active during pregnancy, carrying on their normal duties of manual labor, cooking, grinding grain and fetching water and firewood. In fact, lethargy during pregnancy was highly discouraged and pregnant women were advised to refrain from remaining seated too long. The tradition of consuming special foods and a rich diet (without overeating) was universal among traditional peoples. Morning sickness seems to have been absent among these healthy women.
Typically the births were short and painless, often taking place with no help at all and often in the open air. But in many societies, many women took part—typically a midwife and family members—making sure the mother was comfortable and had what she needed (including special foods for the birth process). Very few societies allowed any men to participate, although the Javanese of Surinam allowed the husband to sit behind his wife and “help her push the baby out.”
Breastfeeding practices, the involvement of relatives, use of cradleboards, sleeping arrangements, toilet training and weaning are all covered in this fascinating book. Most interesting are descriptions of childbirth ceremonies, where relatives and often the whole community celebrate the birth of the new child. Although published in 1984, I highly recommend this book for midwives, mothers-to-be and anyone involved in childbirth and child care. A big Thumbs Up for this compendium of traditional knowledge.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2019