Concerning childbirth, the Bible instructed: “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. ‘But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days” (Leviticus: 12:2-5).
In ancient days the life of a woman was not an easy one. She often did much of the hard work that would be considered a man’s work beside her other household duties and raising children. It is not surprising that many women who were pregnant worked up till their labor time and delivery. Unfortunately, today this is still true in many parts of the world. These conditions gave women little consideration to their childbearing and health.
This cruelty to women was not accepted by the Lord for He made full provision for the mother in Israel that she would have a period of rest and recuperation lasting for weeks. While a new mother was unclean (7–14 days), she was exempt from household duties. This in turn gave her time to get well as well as peace and quiet time with her infant until she regained her strength.
Isolation also protected the mother and the newborn from infections and diseases such as childbirth fever. It was not until the mid-1800s that the physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis understood that the spread of childbirth fever could be prevented by doctors and midwives washing their hands prior to pelvic exams. The simple practice of washing hands was not intuitive, but it was a health law promoted by the Lord almost 3,000 years earlier!
A mother was not required to travel to a place of worship to make an offering until the end of her purification period. Because traveling was difficult, this gave her some time to set a feeding regime for the baby, which is essential for the newborn in order to have enough antibodies to fight disease.
It should be added that God’s instruction that female infants should receive a longer period of attention by the mother is made because females infants often had lower birth weights and higher mortality rates. This longer period at home with the mother ensured their safety. The rules of childbirth in Leviticus show God’s tender care for the mother’s and infant’s needs.
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