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Life Stages: Birth

Catholicism Important

Roman Catholicism plays a central role in Italy’s cultural and social life. Italian society regards the birth of a baby as a gift from God. In fact, Italians have a reputation of being the most "child-loving" people in Europe, and possibly the world. Newborns are valued, and Italians practice a number of beliefs to protect their babies from the harmful effects of the "evil eye." These practices range from not boasting about the newborn’s positive attributes to placing charms and amulets on and around the baby.

Pregnant women in Italy are given all necessary reproductive healthcare services, including ultrasound scanning and prenatal counseling. One hundred percent of all births in Italy, whether at home or a hospital, take place in the presence of a skilled medical attendant.

Abortions are legal in Italy, and women are permitted to request an abortion during the first 90 days of their pregnancy for health, economic, social, or familial reasons. Abortions after the initial 90-day gestation period are illegal and only permitted in cases where the mother’s life is at stake.

Various Rituals

In Italy, rituals for newborns differ between the country’s various religious groups. For Roman Catholics, the most important ritual surrounding a baby is baptism. The ceremony involves not just the baby and its parents, but also the godparents. The baby wears white clothes to symbolize purity, and the rite marks his or her entry into the Catholic fold. After the ceremony, the priest issues a baptismal certificate, a necessity for enrolling the child in a Catholic school as well as for other future sacraments. Families then celebrate at home with homemade cakes and pastries (southern Italians believe that food bought from outside the home brings bad luck).

A birth custom practiced among Italy’s Sephardic Jewish community is the donation of the baby’s swaddling cloth to a synagogue for use as a mappah or fascia (binder for a Torah scroll). Prior to the donation, the mother painstakingly embroiders the cloth, which is then used by the synagogue for daily services.

Italians celebrate birthdays by pulling the child’s ears once for each year of age.