Culture – Hmong Postpartum Superstitions/Traditions

This is my second installment of Hmong Superstitions, with this one focusing specifically on after the baby is born.

Hmong Superstitions

  1. Hmong Superstitions – Pregnancy
  2. Hmong Superstitions – Postpartum

It’s interesting how traditions start out as superstitions after generation upon generation of passed down folktales. Many of the topics I will be discussing will seem like second nature to those who are Hmong and I hope to further discuss their role in an Americanized society.

The Chicken Diet
Hmong people traditionally take the postpartum recovery extremely seriously with two traditions that largely happen for the first month (30 days) after the baby is born. The first being that it was extremely important to maintain a high protein and iron diet to make for a faster recovery.

In addition to the herbal chicken soup diet, the women is only allowed to drink warm water as it is believed that cold water will slow the blood flow and prolong postpartum bleeding.

The Hmong are also herbalists and rely on the medicinal benefits that the different plants provide to help with promoting milk production, replenishing energy as well as fluids.

I did the Chicken diet for 3 weeks before I stopped eating the chicken soup, while also supplementing it with fresh fruits and sometimes cheating and having a different meal every couple of days, but mostly ate it. Many other young Hmong mothers cannot endure it for very long and will only eat it for a little while before giving up.

Truth be told, I was starving from the extremely taxing experience that the first thing I could get my mother-in-law to deliver I ate which was a cheeseburger from Mel’s Diner.

I will be making a follow up post analyzing each herb and their medicinal benefits. Stay tuned!

No Visitors for 30-Days
The second tradition that focuses on the health and well being of the mother is the tradition of no visitors who are not the immediate family (on the men’s side) can come by and visit for the first 30-days.

This is so that the baby’s spirit does not accidentally get lost or stolen. Each Hmong clan is protected by their clan’s spirits and other clan spirits can interfere or steal the spirit from the baby.

When one of my cousins had her daughter, I wasn’t allowed to enter their house. I was Hmong Ya and they were Hmong Xiong. They were extra cautious and when they entered or left the house, they would go through the backyard.

Of course, this isn’t practical in the US especially with the added strain of families needing to go back to work almost immediately after a birth, so this is not as observed today.

The Vest Burial
When the Hmong had their babies at home, after the baby was born, they would save the placenta and bury it. As detailed in the The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, it is noted that if a daughter is born, they will bury the placenta under the bed, while, if a son is born, they will bury the placenta near the center post.

It was believed that the placenta was the clothing that brought them into this world. In fact, the word that is used to describe the placenta means “shirt.”

Nowadays, with Hmong women giving birth in hospitals in the US, they do not allow you to take the placenta home with you, and thus this tradition has greatly diminished.

Calling the Baby’s Spirit on the 3rd Day
A ceremony called “Hu Plig” meaning “Soul Calling” is typically done 3 days after the child is born. As the Hmong people are largely hilltribe people, they would not go to hospitals and so stillbirth occurred among them, as it was not able to be anticipated until after delivery.

As the Hmong are animists they would also kill a small animal to offer up to their ancestors to protect the new spirit. It was believed that babies did not have a soul until three days after the birth in which they would then put a silver necklace around the babies neck to secure the baby’s soul.

Do Not Compliment Babies
Spirits are naturally jealous wanting things for themselves, and baby’s spirits are always something that they love to take. It may be off-putting for non-Hmong families to hear relatives say affectionately, “You’re so ugly,” to even the most gorgeous of babies, but it is done so with love to ensure that spirits will stay away.

baby

I have many times over heard relatives call their babies, “noisy,” “ugly,” “bad,” and it has become normal in our families.

However, many people can take this to offense. As I grew older, I became very self-conscious about my appearance. Often times hearing my mother call me “fat” even when I was quite thin.

Later on, after confronting her about it, after years of self-doubt, she had admitted that she didn’t really mean it but that she would say it because she loved me.

I will never quite understand this tradition.

Decorating Baby Hat and Carrier with Flowers
The Hmong people are natural farmers, and so when the women would go back to tending to their gardens, their babies would go with them.


via Winsconsin Historical Society

As the baby would sleep soundly on their mother’s backs, the spirits would fly overhead and upon looking down would not see an exposed baby but rather a beautiful patch of flowers and then would continue on.

With the Hmong who managed to immigrate to the USA, many are no longer farmers. However, I can still recall, as a child, I loved carrying my younger brother and would beg my mom to help me tie him onto me. This feeling of carrying my a child on me would continue onto my own.

With babywearing an ever-growing and popular trend in the United States, there almost feels like there is pressure to constantly hold your child. With more studies noting that you cannot spoil your child, I couldn’t agree more that picking up your baby heals more than harms.

In fact, I cherish the times that my little one needs me to hold her because these moments are few and fleeting and I shouldn’t take them for granted.


Upon further reflection, though many of the superstitions are just that, overly paranoid thoughts. I don’t necessarily feel that there are spirit-stealing monsters coming to take your babies! Other items, such as burying the placenta are more for sentimental rather than “spirit calling” purposes.

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12 responses to “Culture – Hmong Postpartum Superstitions/Traditions

  1. Pingback: Culture – Hmong Pregnancy Superstitions | Renee Ya

  2. Steve Slaikeu

    I need help! I have been invited to a “soul calling” ceramony by my next door neighbor, It is to be held 30 days following the birth of a girl-child. As a 65 year old anglo man I have had no experience with Hmong cultural events and wish to honor the family and child by correct behavior. May I / should I bring a gift? If so, what? What is the proper attire? I have read the comments about not saying complimentary things regarding the child but that being the case, as an old Scandinavian, what should I say to as to not give offense? Thanks you for your comments.

    • Hi Steve!

      Thanks for commenting. You should view the ceremony like a birthday. There may be an opportunity to give them cash to be put on a plate during the khi tes where they will tie white string around the wrists of the baby.

      While tying the white string it is expected that you say a blessing in welcoming the baby’s spirit.

      Most importantly, drink their beer and eat their food. This will be the ultimate sign of respect to your hosts.

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. Mee

    You are wrong about the no visitors for 30 days. It’s the woman who had the baby that cannot go to anyone’s house . She and the baby could go to places but not inside anyone’s home. Any visitors are welcome inside the home of the mother and newborn. I just had my baby in Janaury and me and my baby couldn’t go to anyone house for a month .

    • Hello Mee,

      I have actually heard anecdotally both what you have noted and what I noted in my blog post. It’s possible that some customs have changed or adapted over the years, such as I noted, due to the changing living situations of the Hmong.

      Thank you for commenting and please feel free to read my other articles and provide your insights as well.

  4. Lanie

    I am also in agreement with Mee on her comment that visitors can come to the new mother and the newborn’s house during the 30-day post-labor. I am a Chang and married to the Xiong clan and I have never heard that visitors aren’t allowed to come into the home of the new mother/newborn. It might make sense that people from outside the family may bring bad spirits into the home or on the new child, but I have yet to hear from different clans that visitors could not come see the new mother/infant until your article.

  5. Sam Winston Hawk

    It is as Mee have noted, the tradition and reasoning behind why a women cannot enter another person’s home (with the exception of the husband’s immediate family like his brothers and uncles *dad’s brothers*) within 30 days is because the women who just had her child…her bodies are regarded as unclean and that will sabotage and defile the ancestral spirits of the home she enter. Thus, the 30 days isolation within one’s quarter and no visitation to other people’s home.

  6. Susan

    I too agree with Mee on the visitors issue. I would also like to point out that a new mom and baby can go to other people, families and friends house as long as they are not entering a house that practice shaman. I had a baby girl 6 months ago and I loved my chicken diet. Ate it for the whole 30 days and lost all my baby weight (It also help that I nurse my daughter). And before my 30 days was over my baby and I been to my uncle house, auntie house, cousins house, my sister in law and friends house to visit and hang out. My sister in law had a baby who was three weeks older then my baby girl and her parents are shaman and they let her into their house before her 30 days was over but she did have to go into the house through the garage.

  7. Paula Her

    What you are describing is true for the majority Hmong people because their religion is Shamanism and Animism. The Hmong Christians do not practice those rituals anymore. That’s why we have adopted the name “Coj kevcai tshiab”, which means “practice the new customs or culture”. The only thing we still do is the chicken diet after giving birth. You are right that non-christians practice those rituals, and even a lot more rituals too. Your article was very informative.

  8. Ashlie

    I’m not here to bash but in concern is to the chicken diet. Do the chickens die with honor or prayer. I’m only concerned for the animal and if they die with real dignity without suffrage. Only because I seen a post where people joke and laugh about killing them for the chicken diet which I don’t take lightly.

  9. Pingback: » Culture – Hmong Pregnancy Superstitions

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