Muslim Cultural Influences on Newborn Care

Muslim parents celebrate new life in age-old ways.

The arrival of new life is a time for celebration and time-honored customs, and Muslim parents are no exception. Islamic sacred texts prescribe certain customs near the time of birth. Because Muslims are an ethnically diverse faith community, ethnic and religious customs are often combined into an experience that might not be familiar to members of other faiths, but the devotion and hope that lie behind them are universal.

Islamic Source Texts on Birth and Newborns

Most Islamic customs relating to birth come from hadith, or accounts of the words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad. These include making the adhan, or call to prayer, in the newborn's ear shortly after birth, and giving the newborn something sweet, a practice known as tahneek -- also spelled tahnik. Muslim parents might have their sons circumcised as newborns, but circumcision as a newborn is not required. The Quran recommends breastfeeding. "And mothers shall suckle their children for two whole years, for him who desires to complete the time of suckling."

Muslim Parents' Needs During Labor and Birth

Muslim parents might need accommodation in hospitals or birth centers to ensure that their spiritual needs are met. Muslim women might want to preserve their modesty by limiting contact with nonrelated males. Muslim women are still obliged to perform the daily prayers during labor, so they might need assistance with washing for prayer and will need to remain mobile to perform prayers. Some Muslim parents require quiet as the baby emerges, to ensure that the first words the baby hears are the adhan.

Accommodating Muslim Parents' Postpartum Needs

Muslims can perform the tahneek with dates, honey or any sweet substance permissible for Muslims to consume. But as honey is not recommended for infants, health-care workers can offer a safer alternative such as sugar water. If Muslim parents wish to have their son circumcised as a newborn, they are allowed to do so in a hospital setting, so health care workers can discuss options for circumcision. Muslim parents can also request the placenta for burial.

Ethnic Culture and Personal Preferences Count, Too

Muslims are an ethnically diverse group. Muslims practice customs that are not mentioned in Islamic source texts, and have distinctive ways of performing customs that are mentioned in Islamic source texts. A specific family member might be required to call the adhan in the newborn's ear or perform the tahneek. Some Muslim fathers might not feel comfortable being with their spouse in labor or the early postpartum period. Making new Muslim parents comfortable means recognizing their needs as individuals.