Knocked up abroad: Turkish superstitions on pregnancy and children

Turkish superstitionsBeing pregnant in a foreign country, even as a traveler, gives you a unique perspective into a culture, their beliefs and practices, and values. While I’ve been in Istanbul, I’ve found Turkish superstitions to apply to all aspects of life, pregnancy and children no exception. Over the past six months, I’ve heard a lot of interesting customs and beliefs, some of them wackier than others. Turks love babies and tend to be deferential towards pregnant women – I always get a seat on the train and am often offered help whether I need (or want) it or not.

As a foreigner with a non-Turkish husband, I’ll be exempt from many of these traditions, but enjoy learning about each of them.
The nazar – don’t leave home without it
If you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve undoubtedly seen the nazar boncuk, or evil eye, everywhere. The blue glass stone is put on doorways, cars, jewelry, and anywhere else it can be attached to. There is no religious significance and not many people still believe the old superstitions, but the tradition remains. Few Turkish parents would let their child out without a nazar pinned to their clothing for protection from evil spirits.

Beware of cold
Nearly every illness in Turkey will be attributed to cold drafts, and this means many Turks will not use air conditioning in summer, and bundle babies even on the hottest days. Cold floors are repeatedly the culprit, and women should avoid walking barefoot to avoid infertility, miscarriage, and just unpleasant gas. Mothers-to-be should wear slippers to avoid lectures from Turks. After birth, the mother should continue to stay warm while breastfeeding, as cold milk will result in a stomachache.

On food
My favorite Turkish custom has yet to happen for me, but it’s said that if a pregnant woman smells food, she must taste it. In theory, waiters might chase pregnant women down the street with a food sample to avoid bad luck. If you crave sweet things, you’ll have a boy; sour food means a girl. A lot of red meat will result in a boy, mainly vegetables, a girl. If a pregnant woman eats eggs, the baby will be naughty. Any particular food cravings may result in a birthmark on the baby in the shape of the food. I’ll keep you posted if I have a badly-behaved set of boy-and-girl twins with pickle-shaped birthmarks.

Be careful what you look at
According to Turkish custom, pregnant women should look at nothing but pretty things while expecting, for fear that the baby could take on unpleasant characteristics of an ugly, disabled, or dead person. Trips to the zoo are limited too, it’s bad luck to look at bears, monkeys, or camels. It is said that if you look at a person often, the baby will resemble them, so keep watching Mad Men if you want a handsome boy. For extra measure, once the baby is born, never call him cute or pretty, best to call it ugly so that the spirits won’t make it so.

Cutting the cord
When the baby is being delivered, fathers will choose a secret name and tell the doctor, who will whisper it into the baby’s ear as she is born. After birth, the umbilical cord has to be properly disposed of, and where it is buried will influence the child’s life. Bury it outside a mosque for a devout child, at a medical school for a future doctor (I’m guessing Harvard must have a lot of umbilical cords in the grounds). Circumcision practices are a whole other story, but they happen much later in life for boys and involve little sultan’s costumes.

Visiting the baby
Traditionally, new mothers didn’t leave the house for the first 40 days of the baby’s life, but this is rarely the case today in Turkish cities. Baby showers take place after the birth in the home of the new baby. New parents should provide small gifts for guests who visit the baby, such as chocolates or a sachet of herbs. In return, guests bring pieces of gold for the baby (also common at Turkish weddings) and drink a special drink, Lohusa Şerbeti, to welcome the newborn.

Sweat the small stuff
Most of us have heard that pregnant women should be careful coloring their hair (it’s really fine, just avoid getting color on your skin), but many Turks also believe that cutting the mother’s hair will cut the baby’s life short. Speaking of short, don’t measure the baby, lest he stay short-statured. Finally, they may be small, but don’t think you can just step over a baby: it’s bad luck for you as babies are considered to be angels.

Many thanks to my Turkish and expat friends at the Sublime Portal for their stories, input and advice!

Gadling readers, what beliefs are popular in your country or places you’ve traveled?

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Camera on Autopilot]


Want more Knocked Up Abroad? Check out the first few installments here, and stay tuned for more on travelling in the second and third trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country.