By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Although nothing can replace prayer and the performance of good deeds, “segulot”, omens, are spiritual and mystical practices that are believed to assist in attaining desired outcomes in a variety of situations. Although I am generally not a supporter of segulot, nor do I necessarily subscribe to any of the segulot cited here, I thought I would share this collection of segulot and minhagim related to pregnancy and childbirth. One should never place one’s faith in segulot, especially if their origins are not well known. Segulot that are completely illogical or otherwise distant from common sense should be avoided.
Praying to God for a smooth delivery and a healthy child is the supreme segula that a woman can engage in with no fear of a possible overdose. It is especially auspicious to pray for one’s children when lighting the Shabbat candles. Some have the custom to recite Psalm 20 twelve times. Giving charity is always a powerful tool in securing Divine favor, and it is certainly appropriate in the hopes of a smooth delivery. Eating the Melave Malka meal at the conclusion of Shabbat is also known as a promising segula for pregnant women.
While it goes without saying, a pregnant woman should be even more meticulous to ensure that she eats only kosher foods. We are taught that the consumption of non-kosher foods, even accidentally, has the power to cause extensive spiritual damage. Becoming angry is also considered to be harmful for a fetus. As such, a husband should be careful to ensure that his wife is always in a good mood.
Another spiritual practice, actually mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, is for pregnant women to be very careful not to step on discarded human fingernails. It was once believed that doing so could trigger a miscarriage. Attending a funeral or visiting a cemetery is also discouraged for pregnant women. Participating in such activities is known to arouse grief, something a pregnant woman should not be made to feel. Additionally, cemeteries are deemed to be places where dangerous spirits are to be found which can potentially cause damage to the fetus.
Some pregnant women have the custom of wearing or otherwise keeping close a special stone known as an “Even Tekuma” which is believed to assist against miscarriage. Other women wear a ruby, while others have the custom to carry around the key to the tomb of a holy person. It is believed that ensuring that all of one’s holy books are in their upright position and properly stored is a segula to prevent a breeched birth. The clothes that a newborn wears for the first time should always be brand new – hand-me-downs should only begin later in life.
There is a well-known custom to bite the end of an etrog that was used over the course of the Sukkot holiday as a segula for an easy labor. Some say this segula only works if performed on Hoshana Rabba, while others insist that it “works” at all times. Another version of this segula is to simply eat jam made from an etrog. Placing holy objects, especially a holy book, on the bed of a woman in labor is also an ancient practice in the hopes for a smooth delivery. A variation of this custom was to put it under the woman’s pillow. Although no longer practiced, there were even communities where it was customary to provide a woman in labor with a Torah scroll to hold!
An always resurfacing segula for overcoming all of life’s ills is to examine the Mezuzot in one’s home. A Mezuza, a mitzva from the Torah, is known for its protective properties and is believed to provide protection to pregnant women as well. It is customary to honor the husband of a woman in her ninth month with the opening of the ark and the removal of the Torah scrolls at synagogue services. The opening of the ark, a mitzva that is done with great ease, is intended to parallel the wish for the arrival of the baby from the womb with ease as well.
Many women have the custom to immerse in a mikva in their ninth month of pregnancy in order to give birth in absolute purity in the event that they may have inadvertently become impure while they were carrying. Furthermore, immersion in a mikva is always accompanied with the theme of teshuva, repentance, where a woman can “cleanse” herself of her sins. Indeed, teshuva on its own has tremendous powers and is certainly auspicious to merit an easy labor. The first place a woman should go prior to resuming her normal daily routine after having given birth should be a synagogue or other holy site.