With a nickname like Mother Russia, it’s no surprise that this is a country that holds some pretty strong ideas on pregnancy and motherhood.
The thing is, Russia has a population problem and a shortage of babies. Combine that with a culture steeped in superstition and traditional beliefs and what we get is an attitude to pregnancy that might seem a little confusing to the rest of the world.
When it comes to starting and raising a family, the approach in Russia is an unusual mix of progressive and modern ideas—like generous maternity benefits— and super old fashioned beliefs (like keeping dads away from the birth).
Of course, every culture has its own superstitions, it’s just that Russia seems to have a bunch of them. From haircare to how they sit, expectant moms in Russia face a daunting list of dos and don’ts if they want to shoo away bad luck; as if bringing a new life into this world wasn’t challenging enough.
The old wives’ tales don’t just apply to pregnancy either. Once the baby arrives, so do a whole new heap of superstitious instructions believed to keep the little one safe and sound. Here are the things that still confuse, and surprise us, about pregnancy in the world’s biggest country.
20 Don't Expect Daddy In The Delivery Room
Yes, you read that right. If you live in a country where fathers are not only welcome in the delivery room but are expected, it might come as a surprise to learn that this is not the case in Russia.
Childbirth isn’t known as "labor" for nothing, and even in this day and age, women in Russia prefer to retain an air of mystery by keeping partners away from the action. Perhaps it’s the guys who’d rather keep a safe distance, but either way, statistics show that only 22 percent of all couples in Russia chose partnered births in 2018.
19 Some Say Bad Language Causes Birthmarks
Many countries and religions have cultural beliefs when it comes to birthmarks. Some believe they are indicators of past lives or signs of good luck. In China, it is thought the shape of a birthmark can reveal interesting character traits. In Russia, however, it is said that birthmarks are caused by colorful language used around a baby bump.
Of course, this isn’t a belief based on scientific fact. That said, if bad language is coming from a place of stress, then that’s not good for mom and baby, so best tone it down.
18 Baby Showers Are Bad Luck
In Russia, pregnancy is a very private matter, which is why it’s considered impolite to ask a pregnant mom when she’s due or the gender of her child, and why baby showers are pretty much non-existent in the country.
It all stems from the idea that receiving baby gifts before the birth is bad luck. But the good news is that new moms do eventually get to have their day. Rather than tempting fate, celebrations usually take place once the baby has arrived safely.
17 Pregnant Women Are Not To Sit With Legs Crossed
Simply sitting down isn’t always a comfortable experience when pregnant, let alone sitting with your legs crossed. Frankly, depending on the size of your bump, this position is not even possible, which is just as well if this superstition is to be believed.
It’s said that sitting with legs crossed may flatten the unborn baby's head, entangle the umbilical cord, and cause discomfort to the growing baby. While there's no evidence to support these beliefs, sitting with your legs crossed may contribute to ankle swelling or leg cramps, so perhaps avoiding it is a good idea, after all.
16 Buying Baby Clothes Is A Bad Omen
With all those itty bitty booties and super cute mini outfits, shopping for a new baby can be so much fun for pregnant mothers. Not so much in Russia, however, where it’s considered a bad omen to buy baby gear before bubba has arrived.
This perceived wisdom is not just exclusive to Russia—it’s actually a fairly common belief throughout parts of Asia, too— and the reason for it might make more sense than you think.
This kind of thinking stems from a time before the advancements of medical science, when pregnancy and birth complications often went undetected and untreated. Pregnancy was and birth was much riskier back then, so moms needed all the luck they could get.
15 Don't Announce Your Pregnancy Until Your Bump Shows
Whether it’s a total surprise or a long hope for baby, or your first or fifth child, few things are more exciting than sharing the news of a pregnancy. But if you're a mom-to-be in Russia, you’ll be expected to keep shtum for as long as possible, or at least until your bump shows.
In the US and the UK, many expecting parents wait until the end of the first trimester, at around week 13, before breaking the news to family and friends. It’s a sensible approach considering the higher risk of losing a baby in the first three months. Women from Russia just apply this logic for a bit longer.
14 There Are Financial Incentives To Getting Pregnant
Russia’s population is in decline. In response, the country’s government offers a little aphrodisiac, by way of financial incentives, to encourage more births.
In 2017, it was announced it would spend a whopping $8.6 billion to encourage couples in Russia to have more babies, with measures including mortgage subsidies and payments to new and growing families, according to Bloomberg.
On registering a pregnancy, a woman receives around $11 from the state, and extra money is given to parents on the birth of their second and third children.
13 Don't Expect Gifts Before The Birth
If you hadn’t guessed already, the culture in Russia is big on bad juju. Traditional beliefs are steeped in seemingly bonkers and overly cautious measures intended to ward off bad spirits and bad luck. Not buying gifts for an unborn child is definitely one of them.
Whereas pregnant women around the world can revel in the enjoyment of opening presents from friends, family, and colleagues, women have to wait until the baby has arrived. Buying a pregnant mama gifts is seen as tempting fate and it’s frowned upon to do so.
12 Forget About A Haircut For Nine Months
For many first time moms, the nine months before birth offers a precious opportunity for a bit of self-care. It’s a great time to indulge in some pampering, and your last chance to look fabulous before milk-stained clothing and eye bags become your de facto look.
When it comes to hair, however, mothers in Russia are advised to leave well alone. That’s right: no cutting allowed because, as the superstition goes, pregnant women who cut their hair are more likely to have a premature birth. With all of the unpredictable changes hair can experience thanks to pregnancy hormones, waving goodbye to your hair stylist sounds like a sad prospect.
11 Pregnant Mamas Are Flocking To The US To Give Birth
Every year, hundreds of pregnant women from Russia are traveling to the US, and it’s not just to enjoy its world-famous landmarks.
Florida, in particular, has seen a huge boom in what’s known as ‘pregnancy tourism,’ which involves women traveling to the US to give birth, ensuring US citizenship for their newborn children.
In Moscow, it's a status symbol to have a Miami-born baby and it’s totally legal, providing all the paperwork is filled out correctly and honestly. While it’s a costly endeavor, setting families back between $20,000 to $50,000 — these children will be rewarded with enormous opportunities and travel advantages.
10 No One But Family Can See A Newborn For Two Whole Months
If you can get through the sheer mental and physical surprise of having a newborn baby to care for, it’s only natural to want to show off your gorgeous little bundle to the world. Look at that face. Is she beautiful? Isn’t he a wonder?
Well in Russia, they're much more cautious about inviting strange eyes to gaze upon new babies. In fact, it’s not uncommon for newborns to be kept out of sight of everyone but close family. Firstly, it’s considered bad luck and secondly, there’s a genuine fear at the risk of infection.
9 Don't Name Your Baby After Someone Who Is Still Alive
To some people, the idea of naming a baby after a living family member or friend is a wonderful homage and possibly one of the sweetest tributes you can possibly make. For others, however, it’s downright weird and maybe even a little disrespectful. Those in Russia adhere to this second mode of thinking.
It’s not an uncommon belief, either. Some Ashkenazi Jewish communities, for example, also believe it’s an honor that should be reserved for deceased relatives only.
8 Expect A Minimum Three-Day Stay In The Hospital After Birth
Giving birth in a state hospital is the most common option for the majority of women in Russia because it’s free, and home births are discouraged for fear of complications.
The usual stay in a hospital for mom and baby is three to seven days after giving birth. Some hospitals will allow an early release but a disclaimer form must be signed. State hospitals are also known for restrictions that might seem strange to the rest of the world.
In some places, for example, fathers cannot be at the birth and it can even be three days or more before he is able to see his partner or the baby.
7 Not looking Your Best? Maybe You're Expecting A Girl
Pregnancy takes its toll on the body and not every expectant mother feels, or looks, glowing. You've guessed it — there's another crazy superstition to explain away pregnancy pimples and limp hair; maybe you’re expecting a girl.
According to this traditional belief, a baby girl steals her mother's beauty away, leaving her looking less than her best. Science doesn’t exactly support this theory and, instead, points to a different explanation for problem skin during pregnancy: hormonal surges. This old wives’ tale still persists in their culture, however.
6 Looking Fabulous? Perhaps It's A Boy
As the superstition goes, a baby girl drains all the beauty from the mother, causing acne and bad hair during pregnancy. By contrast, it’s said that if a woman becomes more beautiful throughout her pregnancy, then there is a baby boy in her womb. In a society that is still very much weighted in favor of the patriarchy, perhaps this traditional belief is just another nod to the cultural preference to have a boy over a girl. Whatever its origins, it certainly isn’t true.
5 Moms Can Be Offered Up To Three Years Of Maternity Leave In Russia!
Some attitudes towards pregnancy and childbirth in Russia can, let’s be honest, seem a little bit old fashioned. But when it comes to maternity leave, this country is downright progressive.
Not only is a woman’s job kept open for her for up to three years, if required, but working moms are also entitled to 140 days of maternity leave, fully paid at 100 percent of their wages. The leave begins 70 days before the pregnancy due date and continues for an additional 70 days after.
Compare this to the US, which provides mothers only with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and it’s clearly extremely generous.
4 Complimenting A Newborn Attracts The Evil Eye (Apparently)
Saying lovely things about a newborn baby is considered polite in much of the world. But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. Russia is just one of many countries where traditional beliefs advise against complimenting a newborn child. In fact, instead of saying nice things, they would rather you say, “Oh, what an ugly child.” Honestly.
It’s feared that compliments put babies in the spotlight of immortal forces, who might hear the lovely words and want to harm baby as a result. When someone compliments her baby, a mother in Russia might knock on unpolished wood or spit three times over her left shoulder to chase off bad spirits.
3 A Baby's Birth Is Celebrated 40 Days After It's Home Safely
As we’ve already established, the approach to pregnancy in Russia is super cautious. There are no gifts, no baby shopping, and no baby showers because it’s a superstitious culture that doesn’t believe in tempting fate.
That’s not to say, however, that pregnancy and the birth of new babies aren’t joyful, happy events. They very much are, only it’s traditional to wait 40 days after the baby has arrived home healthy and safe before the family can celebrate. So moms do get to enjoy a party, after all.
2 Russia Has A Shortage Of Babies
High mortality rates, a low birth rate, and low levels of immigration have caused a serious population problem in Russia.
The US Census Bureau estimates that Russia's population will decline from the current 143 million to a mere 111 million by 2050, a loss of more than 30 million people and a decrease of more than 20%.
Russia needs babies, and fast, and its government has rolled out financial incentives to encourage parents to have multiple children. There’s even a special prize – the Order of Parental Glory - awarded to parents with seven or more children, biological or adopted.
1 No Baby Pics For One Month
This is the digital age. Technology pervades our existence. Oversharing is the new normal, and if life isn’t lived on social media, is it really being lived at all? So just imagine, for a moment, welcoming a new little life into the world and imposing a one-month photo ban, because this is what new moms in Russia are up against.
The pesky Evil Eye is once again to blame for this particular superstition. It is believed that babies with pictures taken before turning one month old are more likely to have harm come their way.