Popular baby customs explained

How did the most popular baby rhymes and customs come about?

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The stork

It’s believed that we first became familiar with the stork through the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and by the 1930s it had replaced the ‘gooseberry bush’ as the most popular way of explaining to young children how babies arrived. In the 1941 Walt Disney film, ‘Dumbo’, it was none other than Mr Stork who delivered everyone’s favourite baby elephant to his mother!

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Pink or blue?

The idea that girls should be dressed in pink and boys in blue only came about in the 1920s, and didn’t really become standard practice until the 1930s. There doesn’t seem to have been any agreed colour distinction before that. A recent study suggests that this preference between the sexes evolved because a male’s eye was more attracted to a clear blue sky for hunting, while a female’s was more drawn to the reds and pinks of fruits and berries while foraging.

Born with a caul

If a baby is born with a caul – a section of the amniotic membrane draped across the head and face – good luck will follow it all the days of its life. That’s the legend! This belief dates back to the 16th century when the caul was considered lucky because it had saved the baby from ‘drowning’ and such was its powers that it became a much sought-after item, especially among fishermen and sailors.

Bathing your baby

It’s often suggested that these days we bath too much – but 100 years ago it was considered unlucky to wash a newborn. Some took this further and wouldn’t wash their children until they were 5 years old, as before that age they were not considered strong enough!

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Hush-a-bye baby

In England the syllable ‘bye’ has been popular in sleep-inducing baby songs for generations, while other countries have their own favourite words – in Scotland it is ‘baloo’. Not only can ‘bye’ be found in the word lullaby, but also bye-byes, meaning sleep. Hush-a-bye Baby is the most widely known of all lullabies and can be found all over the English-speaking world. It hasn’t changed since it was first printed in 1765.

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