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Childhood beliefs about where children come from

Until relatively recently, parents provided different versions to answer their children's questions about where they came from. Those versions varied depending on the places and even sometimes from family to family in the same town or village. What they all had in common was to divert the children’s curiosity about procreation. They were told that they had been brought by a stork or by a person: the midwife, the nurse midwife, the practitioner, the doctor or the father itself. Children were also told they had been bought by their parents or that the father had found them by accident in a wide variety of places.

The stork. Paris

The most common childhood belief was that children came from Paris and they were brought by a stork, zikoina.

In general, they were brought hanging from the beak (Amézaga de Zuya-A), wrapped in a knotted shawl or cloth (Artziniega, Moreda-A) or put in a box (Busturia-B), basket (Artziniega-A) or long wicker hamper also hanging from the beak. (Moreda­A).

Brought by the midwife or the doctor

The midwife bringing the children was an older childhood belief than that of the stork. In places where both traditions were reported, the former dated back earlier in time than the latter. The role of the midwife as the bearer of children has also been attributed to the other healthcare people at the delivery: the nurse midwife, practitioner and the doctor.

Labour. Erditzea

From home to hospital births

The delivery used to happen at the home of the pregnant woman and she would be helped by her relatives or neighbours or trained staff in her own bed. In the 1950s and 1960s, a significant change began as the woman in labour would be taken to nearby urban areas, where there were specialist clinics or other types of health centres where she would receive better care.

Helpers during labour

During the 20th century, we witnessed an important change as regards the people tasked with helping during labour. The traditional midwife, who acted according to her empirical knowledge, was gradually replaced by people with increasingly more specialised qualifications in this area. This change has meant that women have lost control of an experience considered to be nearly their exclusive areas to professionals often overseen by men.

Caring for the postpartum mother

Once the baby had been delivered, the midwife washed the postpartum mother with warm water (Ezkio-G; Moreda-A). In Monreal (N), they used strips of sheets as towels for this. Apart from washing the mother, they changed her clothes and the bedding (Bidegoian, Zerain-G). In Berastegi (G), they then put on the best sheets and bedding.

Announcing the birth

Once the child was born, the person who announced the news to the members of the household was the person at the birth, traditionally the midwife (Artziniega, Moreda, Valdegovía-A) or her helper (Amézaga de Zuya, Artziniega, Gamboa, Valdegovía-A).

Looking after the newborn

First care

The first thing that was done as soon as the child was born was to hang them upside down until they began to cry and if they did not, they were tapped on the buttock until then began to cry and breathe.

Swaddling babies

It was very common in the past to swaddle the children’s babies using tight sashes. It was claimed that this was done to prevent problems even though it was also used to correct problems such as hernias.

As has already been seen, the swaddling was also used during the first days of life to protect the navel and hold the cloths placed over the belly button until it closed up and healed.


According to the information gathered in some places, during the first hours and even longer, the child was only given water, water sweetened with sugar or a little honey, which was smeared on the lips to get the child to suckle.


In the past, the mother’s milk was the only source of food for the baby until much later stages of their development.


When a child could not be fed by their mother because she did not have milk or due to her being sick or had died, trusted women who were also breastfeeding and who had sufficient milk for two children or women who had lost their child were used as wet nurses. In Sangüesa (N), this practice was known as “giving half milk”.

Dangers for the nursing mother. "Getting hairy"

When breastfeeding, the mother had to be careful that she should not get a chill in the breasts. In Garde (N), this condition was known as “getting hairy”. In Amézaga de Zuya (A), special emphasis was placed on the care needed at that time. Particularly, mothers had to avoid getting cold or their breasts “would get hard” and the child would not be able to suckle.

Extending breastfeeding

In the past, a child would be breastfed until they were two or three years old. In some places, the people surveyed remembered cases that were even longer.

In any event, it usually lasted until the mother was pregnant again, when the child was weaned as it was believe that the milk of an expecting woman was not good.

Start of normal feeding

In the past, as the child grew, from nine months or a year, breastfeeding was supplemented with other foods such as roasted wheat porridge with milk and sugar, known as ahia in the Basque-speaking area; milky bread soup; garlic soup, baratxuri-zopea in Gipuzkoa; roasted flour soup, called "Baby Jesus soup" in Sangüesa (N); bean stock, mashed potatoes, vegetables, poached eggs, etc. Diced fish and meat were given when the child began to chew.

Burial of unbaptized infants

Until the start of the 20th century, the practice continued in some places to bury stillborn babies or those who died without being baptized under the eaves of the house or in a plot next to it.

Under the eaves of the house

In Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, the infant was buried around the house between its wall and the gutter line[1]. This practice is still remembered in some of the surveyed locations.

In the limbo of the cemetery

Unbaptized infants would go to Limbo, according to the popular belief driven by the Church; that destination, according to some people surveyed, is "a place of no suffering but of no happiness”.

  1. José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. Estelas funerarias del País Vasco. San Sebastián, 1970, p. 39.