Impurity after childbirth

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Etching (Germany, c. 1731) illustrating the uncleanliness of the mother after giving birth, according to Jewish law. The Book of Leviticus states that a mother should be considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth to a boy and for 80 days after giving birth to a girl. The scene shows a mother in bed eating, surrounded by women and children. Her baby is rocked in a crib. In the foreground, three children ladle water from a jar. In the background is a tented community.

Impurity after childbirth is a form of impurity, primarily found in Abrahamic religions, that begins after a woman has given birth. It is connected to the seclusion imposed by the expectations of postpartum confinement.

Biblical law on impurity after childbirth[edit]

According to Leviticus 12, a woman who gives birth to a son remains impure for a week, and afterwards immerses in a body of water to purify herself. In the rabbinical interpretation of Leviticus 12, any subsequent blood she sees over the next 33 days would be considered dam tohar (דַּם טׂוהַר – ritually clean blood), and that blood does not prohibit her from sexual relations with her husband. The law for a woman who gives birth to a daughter is the same, however, the durations are doubled. The mother becomes impure for 2 weeks, and after immersion, any blood she sees over the next 66 days is dam tohar.

Scholarly explanation[edit]

There is no scholarly consensus for the Biblical law, including the difference between the birth of sons and daughters. Tikva Frymer-Kensky suggested that "like the person who touched death, the person who has experienced birth has been at the boundaries of life/non-life...."[1]

Other rationales include moments of crisis or danger, fear of demons, health, and a lack of wholeness.[2][3]

Jewish law and practices[edit]

Within the realm of Biblical law and post-Biblical Jewish religious discourse surrounding tumah and taharah, the impurity is called in Hebrew tumat yoledet. Halakhah treats a yoledet (woman who gives birth) similarly to any woman with niddah status.

In some Jewish communities, ceremonies and a degree of seclusion were applied to postparturient women. For example, there was a Sana Yemenite custom of women visiting the mother during 4–6 weeks after childbirth. The mother would be visited in a special room in her home and she would sit in a decorated triangle box.[4]

Christian practices[edit]

Some early churches followed the Jewish custom of restricting women from worship after giving birth until the purification ceremony.[5][6] Today, many Christians commemorate Candlemas, the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary. Some continue to celebrate a Churching of Women ceremony, derived from the Jewish tradition but not necessarily implicating ritual impurity.[7][8]


In Hinduism, Sutak is impurity associated with birth of a child.[9][10] After childbirth, pollution period of eleven days is observed.[11]


Sutak is a Hindu belief associated with the impurity of the house on account of the birth of a child. It is also believed that women are most prone to such impurity. Guru Nanak condemned such notions of pollution/impurity.[9][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ p. 401
  2. ^ Milgrom, Jacob (1993). "The rationale for biblical impurity" (PDF). Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society. 22 (1).
  3. ^ Macht, David I. (1933). "A scientific appreciation of Leviticus 12: 1-5". Journal of Biblical Literature. 52 (4): 253–260. doi:10.2307/3259207. JSTOR 3259207.
  4. ^ Goldberg, Harvey (2003). Jewish passages: cycles of Jewish life. Univ. of California. pp. 64–65.
  5. ^ Susan K. Roll, "The Old Rite of Churching Women after Childbirth, in De Troyer, Kristin, ed. (2003). Wholly woman, holy blood: a feminist critique of purity and impurity. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. ISBN 9781563384004.
  6. ^ Newell, Rachel C. "The thanksgiving of women after childbirth: a blessing in disguise." Exploring the Dirty Side of Women’s Health. London, New York (2007): 44-59.
  7. ^ Cressy, David (1993). "Purification, Thanksgiving and the Churching of Women in Post-Reformation England". Past and Present. 141 (1): 106–146. doi:10.1093/past/141.1.106. JSTOR 651031.
  8. ^ Knödel, Natalie (1997). "Reconsidering an Obsolete Rite: The Churching of Women and Feminist Liturgical Theology". Feminist Theology. 5 (14): 106–125. doi:10.1177/096673509700001406. S2CID 143711308.
  9. ^ a b Singh, Jagraj (2009). A Complete Guide to Sikhism. Unistar Books. pp. 116–117. ISBN 9788171427543.
  10. ^ Preston, James (2017). Mother Worship: Theme and Variations. UNC Press Books. p. 250. ISBN 9781469610207.
  11. ^ Singh, K.S. (1998). India's Communities. Oxford University Press. p. 486. ISBN 9780195633542.
  12. ^ Rait, S.K. (2005). Sikh Women in England: Their Religious and Cultural Beliefs and Social Practices. Trentham Books. p. 72. ISBN 9781858563534.
  • Cooper, Alan (October 2004). "A medieval Jewish version of original sin: Ephraim of Luntshits on Leviticus 12". Harvard Theological Review. 97 (4): 445–459. doi:10.1017/S0017816004000781. JSTOR 4495099.
  • Goldberg, Harvey E. Jewish passages: cycles of Jewish life. Univ of California Press, 2003.
  • Magonet, Jonathan. "‘But If It Is a Girl, She Is Unclean for Twice Seven Days...’: The Riddle of Leviticus 12: 5." Reading Leviticus: A Conversation with Mary Douglas (1996): 144-52.
  • Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Pollution, Purification, and Purgation in Biblical Israel,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of D. N. Freedman in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday (ed. C. L. Meyers and M. O’Connor; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 399–414