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A caul or cowl (Latin: Caput galeatum, literally, "helmeted head") is a piece of membrane that can cover a newborn's head and face.[1] Birth with a caul is rare, occurring in less than 1 in 80,000 births.[2] The caul is harmless and is immediately removed by the attending parent, physician, or midwife upon birth of the child.[citation needed]

An en-caul birth is different from a caul birth in that the infant is born inside the entire amniotic sac (instead of just a portion of it). The sac balloons out at birth, with the amniotic fluid and child remaining inside the unbroken or partially broken membrane.[citation needed]


The amniotic sac from an en caul birth.

A child 'born with the caul' has a portion of a birth membrane remaining on the head. There are two types of caul membranes,[clarification needed] and such cauls can appear in four ways.[clarification needed][citation needed]

The most common caul type is a piece of the thin translucent inner lining of the amnion that breaks away and forms tightly against the head during birth.[3][self-published source?] Such a caul typically clings to the head and face but on rarer occasions drapes over the head and partly down the torso.[citation needed]


The caul is harmless and is immediately removed by the attending parent, physician, or midwife upon birth of the child. If the membrane is of the amniotic tissue, it is removed by easily slipping it away from the child's skin. The removal of the thicker membrane is more complex. If done correctly, the attending practitioner will make a small incision in the membrane across the nostrils so that the child can breathe. The loops are then carefully removed from behind the ears. The remainder of the caul is then either peeled back very carefully from the skin or else gently rubbed with a sheet of paper, which is then peeled away. If removed too quickly, the caul can leave wounds on the infant's flesh at the attachment points, which might leave permanent scars.[3]


Birth with a caul is rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in 80,000 births. This statistic includes en-caul births, which occur more frequently than authentic caul births; therefore, authentic caul births are even more rare than indicated by the raw statistic.[4] Most en-caul births are premature.[citation needed]

Folk traditions[edit]

According to Aelius Lampridius, the boy-emperor Diadumenian (208–218) was so named because he was born with a diadem formed by a rolled caul.[citation needed]

In medieval times, the appearance of a caul on a newborn baby was seen as a sign of good luck.[5] It was considered an omen that the child was destined for greatness. Gathering the caul onto paper was considered an important tradition of childbirth: the midwife would rub a sheet of paper across the baby's head and face, pressing the material of the caul onto the paper. The caul would then be presented to the mother, to be kept as an heirloom. Some Early Modern European traditions linked caul birth to the ability to defend fertility and the harvest against the forces of evil, particularly witches and sorcerers.[6]

Folklore developed suggesting that possession of a baby's caul would bring its bearer good luck and protect that person from death by drowning. Cauls were therefore highly prized by sailors. Medieval women often sold them to sailors for large sums of money; a caul was regarded as a valuable talisman.[7]

In Polish the idiom w czepku urodzony/a ('born in a bonnet'), in Italian nato/a con la camicia ('born with a shirt') and in French né(e) coiffé(e) ('born with a hat on') all describe a person who is always very lucky.[citation needed]

The Russian phrase родился в рубашке (rodilsya v rubashke, literally 'born in a shirt') refers to caul birth and means 'born lucky'. It is often applied to someone who is oblivious to an impending disaster that is avoided only through luck, as if the birth caul persists as supernatural armor, and in this sense commonly appears in titles or descriptions of Russian dashcam videos.[citation needed]

Not all cultural beliefs about cauls are positive. In Romanian folklore babies born with a caul are said to become strigoi upon death.[8][9] It was also believed that "he who is born to be hanged will never drown" - that anyone born with a caul was destined to leave the world in a hangman's hood in place of the caul with which they were born. The belief in cauls as omens persisted well into the 20th century.[10]

The 16th century Dutch physician Levinus Lemnius, author of The Secret Miracles of Nature, remained skeptical of superstitious claims about preserved cauls. Comic writer Thomas Hood even ended his poem "The Sea-Spell" with a lament about a drowning sailor's futile reliance on a protection charm:[10]

Heaven never heard his cry,
Nor did the ocean heed his caul.

Notable people born "in the caul"[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

In the classic 1850 novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, the title character and novel narrator describes his own birth: "I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas." Copperfield goes on to describe the fate of his caul, which was re-sold and raffled over the subsequent decade as a talisman believed to protect its owner from death by drowning.[25]

In the novel Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, Theophilus Hopkins, father of the hero, Oscar, gives to his son a little box, inside which there is "a caul, the little membrane that had covered Oscar’s head at birth and it had been kept, his mother had kept it, because it was said – superstitiously, of course – that such a thing would protect the child from drowning".[26]

An en caul birth is depicted in the episode "Heavy Hangs the Head" (S03E01) of the Apple TV+ science fiction series See.[27]

In The Shining, Danny Torrance is born with a caul, possibly causing his clairvoyant abilities.

In Barbara Kingsolver's novel Demon Copperhead (2022), the protagonist is born with a caul, with the superstition that he could not die by drowning.

In the FX series The Strain, Zach is born in a caul in S3 Episode 3 "First Born".

In J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist is significantly[citation needed] named Holden Caulfield.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "caul". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  2. ^ Malik, Rohail; Sarfraz, Adil; Faroqui, Raihan; Onyebeke, William; Wanerman, Jeffrey (2018-04-30). "Extremely Preterm (23 Weeks) Vaginal Cephalic Delivery En Caul and Subsequent Postpartum Intraventricular Hemorrhage and Respiratory Distress: A Teaching Case". Case Reports in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2018: e5690125. doi:10.1155/2018/5690125. ISSN 2090-6684. PMC 5952438. PMID 29854514.
  3. ^ a b http://caulbearersunited.webs.com/-%20New%20Folder/EarliestCaulBearer.pdf[full citation needed][permanent dead link][self-published source]
  4. ^ Cruikshank, MD, Dwight (2005-01-24). "Caul, or Face Veil, Occasionally Present at Birth". Medical College of Wisconsin. Archived from the original on 2008-05-21.
  5. ^ Campion, Vikki (2008-12-31). "Dolores Pancaldi's birth in protective membrane". The Daily Telegraph via News.com.au. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  6. ^ The story of these so-called benandanti is recounted in Carlo Ginzburg's study The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
  7. ^ Oliver, Harry (2006). "12". Black Cats & Four-Leaf Clovers. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-399-53609-0.[page needed]
  8. ^ Andreesco, Ioanna (2004). Où sont passés les vampires ? (in French). Payot. ISBN 978-2-228-89913-0.
  9. ^ Barber, Paul (2010). Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-16481-7.
  10. ^ a b BBC History Magazine; October 2022 issue; Page 57
  11. ^ Barondess MacLean, Barbara. One Life is Not Enough. Hippocrene Books: New York, 1986.
  12. ^ Giblin, James (2005). Good brother, bad brother: the story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth. New York: Clarion Books. p. 7. ISBN 0-618-09642-6.
  13. ^ a b c d "Notable Caul Bearers - Arts". Caul Bearers United - Lifting the Veil. Archived from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  14. ^ Lucy Hughes-Hallett. The Pike: Gabriele d'Annunzio – poet, seducer and preacher of war. Fourth Estate, 2013, p. 90. ISBN 978-0-00-721395-5.
  15. ^ The Siege of Krishnapur[permanent dead link] New York Review Books
  16. ^ D.P. Morgalis, Freud and his Mother. Pep-web.org. Retrieved on 2011-10-15.
  17. ^ Giles, John (2010). A Football Man: The Autobiography. Hodder & Soughton. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-444-72096-9.
  18. ^ Nancy Milford. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Random House, 2002, p. 18. ISBN 0-375-76081-4.
  19. ^ Woodburn, Kim (7 September 2006). Unbeaten: The Story of My Brutal Childhood. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. ISBN 0-340-92221-4.
  20. ^ "Dr. Jonas Salk, the Knight in a White Lab Coat: An Interview with Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs | History News Network". historynewsnetwork.org.
  21. ^ Tolchin, Martin (July 30, 1974). "Ribicoff's Charmed Life: From Poverty to Power". The New York Times.
  22. ^ "Nancy Wake dead, aged 98. Extract by Peter Fitzsimons". Mamamia. August 8, 2011.
  23. ^ Fitzsimons, Peter (2002). Nancy Wake: A Biography of Our Greatest War Heroine. HarperCollins Publishers Australia. ISBN 0732274567.
  24. ^ Andrew Jackson Davis. The Magic Staff: An Autobiography of Andrew Jackson Davis, 8th edition. Boston: Bella Marsh, 1867, p. 66.
  25. ^ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, (Oxford University Press, 1850), page 1.
  26. ^ Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda (faber and faber, 1988, paperback 2019), page 215.
  27. ^ Lock, Adam (2022-08-26). "See season 3, episode 1 recap – the premiere explained". Ready Steady Cut. Retrieved 2022-09-07.

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