The origin of…Pregnancy

“If pregnancy were a book they would cut the last two chapters.” Nora Ephron

Post 43 Pregnancy

During pregnancy the offspring the term embryo is used during the first 8 weeks following conception. After those 8 weeks it is known as fetus until birth. The human gestation is divided into three trimesters. During the first trimester a miscarriage is still a high risk, during the second trimester the development of the fetus can be better monitored and during the third trimester the point of fetal viability, or the point at which fetal life outside of the uterus is possible, occurs.

The most commonly used method to calculate the due date is the Naegele´s rule, developed in the early 19th century. With this method the expected due date is calculated from the first day of the last normal menstrual period (LMP or LNMP). The due date is estimated 40 weeks from the LMP (gestation period).
For most mammals, the gestation period is shorter for smaller species, but species that have a breeding season usually give birth during a specific time when food is available and this can influence the gestation period. The Virginian opossum has the shortest gestation period known, 12-13 days, while the longest gestation period is that of the Asiatic elephant with an average of 609 days.

In cultures around the world pregnant women have a special status and there are different postpartum customs. For example, in China the new mother does not leave the house for a month and this time is called zuo yuezi, sitting the month. To help her, the mother should have someone in the house, usually her mother-in-law. She is kept very warm, because it is believed she enters a cold phase due to blood loss during delivery. That is also the reason why she must avoid eating cold, raw foods and need to have warm foods and drinks to restore her energy. The balance of yin and yang in the body is disrupted by giving birth and this must be restored by eating certain, yang, foods (chicken, ginger and eggs) and avoiding yin foods (cold water, bamboo shoots and turnips). Also, bathing and washing her hair is a no-go during this period (although this is now sometimes seen as old fashioned).

In Indonesia and Malaysia, new life is seen as a carrier of light, so for 40 days families burn a light day and night in the new baby´s home. The new mother stays at home and gets body massages and therapeutic baths and her belly is tightly wrapped to help shrink it (bengkung) during this period of pantang.

In Latin-American countries, the postpartum period is known as la cuarentena, a 40-day period during which new mothers recover from labor. Rest is required and chores are taken over by female relatives. Carrots and chicken soup are to be eaten, while spicy and heavy foods must be avoided. The mother´s body is seen as vulnerable and she must cover her head and neck to protect herself and wrap her abdomen in a cloth called a faja.

1. the quality of being pregnant (as in meaning)
2. the condition of being pregnant : gestation
3. an instance of being pregnant (source: Merriam Webster).

The English word pregnancy comes from Latin praegnantem (nominative praegnans, originally praegnas) meaning with child (literally “before birth) probably from prae-, before, + the root of gnasci, be born.
Dutch zwangerschap (zwanger zijn) comes from Middle Dutch swanger, from Old High German swangar, pregnant, from Old English swongor/swangor, cumbersome/slow.
The Spanish word embarazo comes from Portuguese baraça, noose/rope. It is probably a combination of the prefix em-, from Latin in- meaning in-, with the word baraça, coming fronm the custom of women to wear a strap of cloth on their dresses when pregnant. Baraça could be related to the Celtic word barr, meaning tuft. The English word embarrassment is indirectly derived from the Spanish embarazo.
Italian gravidanza is derived from grávido, laden/fraught, from Latin grávidus, laden/pregnant.

Pregnancy in other languages:
Dutch: de zwangerschap
Spanish: el embarazo
Italian: la gravidanza (note: being pregnant in Italian is essere incinta).


1 reply »

  1. Very interesting ideas for post pregnancy period in other parts of the world. I would choose Indonesian/Malasian treatment. Sounds wonderful. 🙂

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