In pictures: How different cultures celebrate arrival of babies

Five-week-old Emma is given a coin by her nana, Sandra, a custom meant to bring good luck and prosperity in Scotland Credit: WaterAid/Paul Watt/PA

A new collection of images from around the world demonstrates different cultural traditions for welcoming babies and protecting new mothers.

Rituals such as post-partum porridge and baptisms are used to celebrate new life in different corners of the globe.

Natsumi, 29, feeds her four-week-old daughter Miwa during Okuizome, a first food ceremony that takes place in Japan Credit: WaterAid/Kodai/PA


Parents celebrate Okuizome, a first food ceremony. The tradition, which dates back to Heian times, sees the newborn (imitatively) fed so that they never go hungry throughout their lives.

Lucia, 26, mother to newborn baby Bertha, eating a special porridge made from soya, maize flour and sugar which is given to mums after childbirth in Malawi. Credit: WaterAid/Jenny Lewis/PA


New mothers are given a porridge made of soya, maize flour and sugar as it is thought to give them energy and nutrients following exertion of childbirth.

Nagit, 30, with husband Lomer, 32, baby Bakita and their four other children after the blessing of their newborn. Credit: WaterAid/James Kiyimba/PA


Beer and dancing are used to celebrate a new arrival, as well as the skin of the Etopojjo tree being formed into small strings tied around the baby’s wrist, ankles, neck and waist.

Nome, 21, wearing a ‘masonjoany’ mask to protect herself from the sun and bad spirits in Madagascar. Credit: WaterAid/PA


Mothers wear a masonjoany mask – made by grinding a sandalwood tree branch with water to form a paste – to protect themselves from bad spirits.

Nome, 21, wore the mask as part of the Manaboaka Jabely tradition after giving birth.

She said: “In our culture, mothers like me and our newborn babies are not allowed to go outside during the first seven days after the birth.

“Once we have made it through these sacred, critical seven days, we step outside for a short time to face the reality of life and the bright sun.”

Rinku, 22, from Delhi, applies thick, black ‘kajal’ or kohl to her child Kritika’s eyes, a tradition said to ward off evil spirits in India. Credit: Water Aid/Prashanth Vishwanathan/PA


Black eye kohl is applied to children to ward off evil spirits.

Rinku, 22, from Delhi, said: “The tradition of applying kohl or ‘kajal’ to the infant’s eyes and forehead began long ago and has been taught to each generation by the elders.

“The black kajal protects the child from any evil spirits and keeps them healthy.”

Four-month-old Emmeline has holy water poured over her head at the Roman Catholic Holy Family Church in New Jersey, in the belief it will absolve babies of original sin. Credit: WaterAid/Jill Costantino/PA


Holy water is poured over a baby’s head, in the belief it will absolve them of original sin.


Newborn babies – like five-week-old Emma who was photographed by Paul Watt for WaterAid – are given coins in a custom meant to bring prosperity.

The picture gallery has been released by charity WaterAid as part of their Water Effect campaign, which aims to help mothers and new babies ensure they have the best start by providing clean water and good sanitation in health centres.

Tim Wainwright, chief executive of WaterAid, said: “It’s unacceptable that in the developing world one in three health centres do not have clean water.

“This means doctors and midwives cannot protect their patients from the risk of infection, and the consequences can be fatal.

“That’s why we’re putting clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene at the heart of healthcare, helping save lives every day.”