Childbirth in Aztec Society

If you’ve read about the Aztecs in your textbooks, you are probably familiar with their seemingly strange religious practices, which could include human sacrifice to pacify their gods. What you may not know is that the Aztecs often celebrated life, especially when a child was born. In fact, a Spanish priest who lived among the Aztecs said that he had never seen a society in which children were valued so much. A few months before the birth, the grandparents of the unborn baby would invite family members to a feast, which served as a kind of baby shower. Instead of gifts, however, the future grandparents selected a midwife to help the mother through her labor. They expressed their concern for the survival of the mother and the child to the midwife and urged her to do her duty.

On the day of the birth, the midwife returned to second feast with promises of her skill. After a successful delivery, the midwife gave the war cry, which meant that the mother had fought a good battle during labor. The Aztecs recognized the difficulty and pain of giving birth by comparing it to capturing an enemy in battle.

Both boys and girls were welcomed joyfully as the midwife compared the baby to precious items like jade and turquoise. Depending on the gender of the baby, the midwife recited their different roles. To a boy she said, “you are pledged, you are promised, you are sent to the field of battle. War is your destiny, your calling.” In contrast, a baby girl was told, “You are to prepare drink, you are to grind corn, you are to toil, you are to sweat, beside the ashes, beside the hearth.”

After the birth, the family brought in a soothsayer to tell the child’s fate. According to the Aztecs, the date and time of birth decided whether the child would be wealthy or poor, or have a good or bad character. If the child’s future seemed bleak, the family could wait to name the child on a more positive day, which would improve the child’s chances for a good life.

The child received its name during a bathing ceremony. During this ceremony, the midwife bathed the child and presented it with small symbols of its future tasks. For example, a boy received a small shield, bow and arrows. A girl was given tools used for spinning and weaving. After the bath, the baby was named. Aztec children were sometimes named for the day of their birth as in Ome Mazatl, which meant Two Deer. Names of flowers and other animals were also used, however. Regardless of their names or genders, all children in Aztec society enjoyed the love of their parents and extended family, as well as aid from their gods.

 

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