Taboos to be kept by the mother or her family members before and after the birth of a child.
In the past, childbirth was always exposed to bujeong (Kor. 부정, Chin. 不淨, lit. impurities or bad luck), which led to anxieties over a new-born child lest the child go wrong. Childbirth taboos, or chulsangeumgi, were a measure to relieve a pregnant woman or woman with a new-born of their anxieties and to prevent mishaps from taking place. Childbirth taboos are divided by phase into prenatal and postnatal taboos, and they consist largely of forbidden food and activity.
In the prenatal phase, the pregnant woman should refrain from eating particular foods. The most generally forbidden food included duck meat, dog meat, rabbit meat, squid, and pork. It was believed that if a pregnant woman ate duck meat, she would give birth to a child with webbed hands and feet like a duck. If she ate rabbit meat, she would give birth to a red-eyed or hare-lipped child. Eating pork would cause the baby to have edemas; eating eggs would cause the baby to get boils; and eating squid would lead to the birth of a boneless baby. In most cases, food taboos during pregnancy originated from concerns about the possibility, rather than any scientific grounds, that the shape or an attribute of the food might negatively impact the baby to be born. Nevertheless, food taboos were kept because the pregnant woman’s emotional security was believed to be directly connected with her unborn baby. In addition, food brought from a family in mourning or home hosting an ancestral memorial rite was banned because of its association with death, and food that was odd-shaped or ill-smelling because it had negative associations.
Also, the expectant mother was forbidden to do such activities as jumping over a sieve, fire, or cutting board and sitting on a broom. Jumping over a sieve or fire was believed to delay the childbirth or to cause the baby to frequently convulse, respectively, and sitting on a broom was believed to bring the birth of twins. The pregnant woman should not visit a house in mourning or holding a banquet or a house on fire because of the impurities. A house in mourning or on fire should be avoided also for the safety and hygiene of the pregnant woman because a crowd of people would gather at such a place. Family members were also expected to strictly abide by these activity taboos before the childbirth. They did not visit inauspicious places, including a house of mourning, nor use words such as “difficult delivery, ” “death, ” or “stillbirth, ” or any other word that connoted such meanings. They were forbidden to kill animals or to use a sickle or axe when collecting firewood. In addition, they were prohibited from repairing the fireplace or chimney or pasting paper on holes in the doors during the month of delivery because the former action was believed to bring a cleft-lipped baby and the latter to cause a difficult delivery. Also, giving household items or soy sauce to others was taboo because such behavior would mean the baby would be born unlucky.
With an impending delivery, the family chose sansil (Kor. 산실, Chin. 産室, lit. delivery room) and an auspicious direction in which the baby was to be delivered. Selecting an auspicious direction was a kind of proactive taboo because it meant avoiding an inauspicious direction. Another behavior related to childbirth taboos was to demarcate the delivery room as a taboo area by hanging geumjul (Kor. 금줄, rice straw rope to ward off evil spirits) at the front gate as soon as the baby was born.
In the postnatal phase, taboos were largely related to forbidden food and behavior. In particular, during postnatal care the mother should refrain from eating hard, cold, spicy, salty, or mushy food. It was believed that hard food, rice gruel, cooked turnip, pumpkin, or tofu would do damage to the mother’s teeth; if the mother drank cold water, she would have edemas; eating spicy food would do harm to her stomach; and eating chicken would spoil her breast milk. These food taboos were
mostly intended to help the mother recover her health after childbirth, or to help the new-born baby with breast feeding, hence they had strong scientific and empirical aspects. It was also believed that if a family member had been to an inauspicious place, including a house of mourning, or if an unclean person had entered the house where the baby was born, the mother’s breast milk would dry out or the baby would have trouble.
Chulsangeumgi overlaps with taegyo (Kor. 태교, Chin. 胎敎, lit. prenatal education) in many aspects. The two are similar in that they are based on wishes for the birth of a healthy baby and for the baby to grow into a good person by refraining from particular food or activity and by having a good mental attitude. However, chulsangeumgi has the strongly shamanic nature of preventing impurities or misfortunes from befalling the mother and the fetus, while taegyo has strong focus on education