Pregnancy and birth superstitions in Azerbaijan

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Pregnant in Azerbaijan

“Don’t let them tell me the sex”, I asked the nurse for about the tenth time.

Map of the area surrounding AzerbaijanMy husband and I were in the waiting room of a large government antenatal clinic in Baku, Azerbaijan, accompanied by a nurse / translator from the international clinic that we used for all our basic healthcare needs.

The Baku ante-natal system was well known amongst expats for their focus on telling parents the sex of their unborn baby and, although my Russian and Azerbaijani were virtually non-existent, I could recognise the words for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’.

The focus on gender is important to parents as many Azerbaijanis want to have sons and also to have only one or two children.


The TFR (Total Fertility Rate) for rural areas (2.3 births per woman) is higher than for urban areas (1.8 births). Consequently Azerbaijan has the third highest rate in the world of gender imbalance – just behind India and China for terminating pregnancies on the grounds of gender. There are 117 male to every 100 female babies due to the use of selective abortion in favour of boys.

In all societies that record births, between 103 and 106 boys are normally born for every 100 girls. The ratio has been so stable over time that it appears to be the natural order of things.
See ‘Gendercide: The worldwide war on baby girls’, the Economist, March 4th, 2010

Predicting the gender of unborn babies in Azerbaijan

This may also help to explain the numerous and rather bizarre ways to predict whether a pregnant mother will have a girl or a boy:

  • If, on the first day of her pregnancy, the woman looks at the moon, she will give birth to a son; if she sees the sun, it will be a daughter.
  • If she sees an apple in a dream, it will be a daughter; if she sees a knife, it will be a son.
  • When a man, who has heard that a woman is pregnant, secretly watches her while she stands up from her seat and sees that she takes her first step with her left foot, it means that she will have a daughter, if she steps with the right foot, she will have a son.
  • If there is meat around the oral bone of a boiled sheep’s head and the expecting mother guesses this, she will give birth to a girl; if she doesn’t, it will be a boy.

We navigated the scan without accidentally discovering the sex, but resolved to return to the U.K. for the twenty week scan. Although the technicians seemed knowledgeable and well trained, the equipment was very old and the quality of the images poor.

Like most other expats we knew, I also planned to return home to the U.K. for the delivery.

Childbirth customs in Azerbaijan

Attitudes about childbirth in Azerbaijan were very different. Some of the more startling myths included:

  • Women with poor eyesight must have a C-section otherwise they would go blind.
  • Placentas must be buried under the house for luck.
  • Only a few lucky women would be capable of breast feeding.

There were other reasons for choosing not to give birth in Azerbaijan which will be detailed in the next post.

By Gayle Clifford

Gayle Clifford is a British mother of three daughters and is a PhD student. She currently lives in Jamaica where she is conducting research into the experiences of HIV positive mothers. She has also lived, worked and studied in The Gambia, the UK, Mexico, Ghana, and Azerbaijan.

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  1. Gayle, this is a very interesting topic. I know that burrying the placenta under the house or a tree is supposed to bring luck to the family in many cultures. It would be very interesting to know more about these traditions all over the world!

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