Pregnancy Henna Traditions
Being pampered and beautified is a way to nourish and comfort a woman going through the intense journey of pregnancy. In traditional cultures the properties of henna and the designs themselves are believed to empower the mother with protection, purification and blessings.
Henna is traditionally used in birthing rituals in India, North Africa, South East Asia, Middle East and Turkey. Henna actually performed on the belly is a modern take on prenatal henna, traditionally it is done on the hands and feet.
Rural Rajasthani women apply henna in a beautiful ceremony reserved for first time mothers in their eighth month of pregnancy. From Catherine Cartwright Jones in 2002 :
“A woman in the eighth month of her first pregnancy has an Athawansa ceremony. She is rubbed with scented oils, bathed in perfumed water, and ornamented with henna, on her hands, feet, up to the wrist and ankle, in a manner similar to her wedding henna. She is dressed in new clothing and ornaments. She is seated on a cauki, ceremonial wooden seat. Women friends and family fill her lap (god) with sweets, fruit, and a coconut. This ritual is god bharna, or the filling of the lap.”
Being pampered and beautified is a way to nourish and comfort a woman going through the intense journey of pregnancy. The properties of henna and the designs themselves may add the benefits of protection, purification and blessing.
Henna and Postpartum Depression
Countries that traditionally use henna in their folk religious practices have very low rates of postpartum depression. Among them we find Islam, Sephardic Judaism, Hinduism and Coptic Christianity (Cartwright Jones 2002).
Henna is applied after the birth, amidst a process of bonding with the newborn, rest, seclusion and nurturing by fellow women.
For example, in Rajasthan the mother is ornamented with henna before going into delivery. After the birth her nails are painted with henna in a purification ritual. On the tenth day after the birth solar symbols are applied with henna as the mother and child are presented to society and shown to the sun to attain the blessings of the sun deity. (Cartwright Jones 2002)
Henna is regarded as a beautifying and purifying agent and is highly regarded for its protective powers. Beauty, purification and protection are essential healing components in the birthing process.
Beautification is comforting and nourishing, assisting the mother in re-establishing her self esteem and her social identity. When henna is applied the mother is forced to rest until the process is finished.
Cartwright Jones, Catherine “The Functions of Childbirth and Postpartum Henna Traditions”
Marie Macdonald, “The Baby Centre” webpage : http://arabiaenglish.babycenter.com/traditional-customs-celebrations/is-it-safe-henna-pregnancy/