Birth & Infancy

Birth & Infancy


In the hopes of becoming pregnant, a woman might finely crush shells, mix them with warm water and let the mixture set over night before swallowing.  The mixture would be comprised of either shell beads provided by Pit River people, if a boy was desired or the inner layer of shells from the ocean for a girl. On the fifth day of the woman’s menstruation cycle she would ingest the mixture facing to the east.

During pregnancy, women were cautious about what they ate and the activities they participated in. The woman would be prohibited from eating fish to prevent illness, but would eat various species of birds in the hopes that the child might not be weak or lazy.  It was believed that eating things like intestines or an animal who was killed by choking or downing could lead to issues, such as the baby becoming “twisted” in the womb or unable to breathe.

While diet was important, it was also considered central that the woman reduce physical exercise to a minimum and prevent quarreling and fighting to avoid emotional or physical strain for the expecting mother. The father had only one small restriction—to be cautious in the hunt and not to snare any animals.

At time of delivery, two midwives were called on if available, along with other women who were either kin or part of the community. The husband might be present, if desired. The delivery occurred often times in the main house or in a supplemental hut.  When labor was entering the final stage, the mother knelt on the bedding, while one midwife physically supported the woman from behind and the other midwife wait patiently in the front of the woman with a buckskin or fur blanket in her lap, hands prepared for receiving the infant.

Following birth, the midwife would use her hands to gently wash the baby and then laid in a woven Tule reed cradle with fawn skin or rabbit fur for protection.  On the second day, the infant would be given a “steam bath” with floating water-lily seeds.  While in the cradle, the infant would be placed over a large basket containing water and hot rocks, for as long as the steam would roll.  The mother would attend the bathing when able.

On the fifth day, the navel stump would become detached.  The family would contain the stump in a small buckskin bag, often times decorated in beadwork.  This bag would be tied to the cradle near the child’s right shoulder, where it remained until the cradle was no longer needed and all would be disposed of by burning.

Children would be breast fed usually to the age of two and the diet after 6 months of age may also be supplemented with finely ground roots (Epos) and pieces of soft fat or pre-chewed meat. To entertain a baby, the root may be used, stating, “boqs” (Camas root), “ge’s” (Ipos root), or playful sounds such as “woya, woya, woya” and “dip, dip, dip”.