There is “a time for birth,” Solomon said, and normally in humans it occurs about 280 days after conception. For parents, the day their baby is born is usually one of great rejoicing, though for the individual, according to wise King Solomon, the day of one’s death, with a lifetime of good accomplishments behind him and a good name with God, can be even better than the day of his birth.—Luke 1:57, 58; Eccl. 7:1.
From early times midwives assisted in childbirth. Birthstools of some sort were used as an assistance to the mother and as an aid to the midwife in making the delivery. Such may have been two stones or bricks upon which the mother crouched or squatted during parturition. (Ex. 1:16) Ancient hieroglyphics confirm that such childbirth stools were used in Egypt. The Hebrew word translated “stool for childbirth” in Exodus occurs only one other time in the Bible (Jer. 18:3), where it is rendered “potter’s wheels.”
Postnatal procedures, most often performed by midwives, are mentioned at Ezekiel 16:4, though in a figurative sense. The navel cord was cut, the baby was washed and rubbed with salt, and then wrapped in swaddling bands. The use of salt may have been to dry the skin and make it firm and tight. Wrapping the baby in swaddling bands from head to foot, as was done with Jesus (Luke 2:7), gave the infant an almost mummy-like appearance, served to keep the body warm and straight, and by passing the bands under the chin and around the top of the head, it is said, the child was trained to breathe through its nostrils. Caring for newborn infants in this way dates far back into antiquity, for Job was familiar with swaddling wrappings.—Job 38:9.
After the immediate needs of the mother and child were cared for, the baby was presented to the father, or the news of the birth announced, and he acknowledged it as his. (Jer. 20:15) So too when a maidservant as a substitute had a child fathered by the husband of her barren mistress, the offspring was acknowledged as belonging to the mistress. (Gen. 16:2) This is evidently what Rachel meant when she requested that her slave girl Bilhah “give birth upon my knees” so that she might “get children from her.” (Gen. 30:3; compare Genesis 50:23.) Not that the delivery was literally to be upon the knees of Rachel, but that she might dandle the child on her knees as if it were her very own.
When the baby was born or eight days later when circumcised, the infant was named by either parent, but if there was a difference of opinion the father’s decision on a name was final. (Gen. 16:15; 21:3; 29:32-35; 35:18; Luke 1:59-63; 2:21) The baby was ordinarily suckled by the mother (Gen. 21:7; Ps. 22:9; Isa. 49:15; 1 Thess. 2:7), although it appears that other women were sometimes used. (Ex. 2:7) Usually the child was not weaned until two or three years old or older; Isaac, it seems, was five, and in his case the event called for celebration and feasting.—Gen. 21:8; 1 Sam. 1:22, 23.
Under the Mosaic law a woman giving birth to a boy was ceremonially unclean for seven days, with an additional thirty-three days required for her purification. If the child was a girl, then the mother was considered unclean for fourteen days, requiring sixty-six days more for purification. At the conclusion of this period a burnt offering and a sin offering were to be made for her: a young ram and a male turtledove or a male pigeon, or two turtledoves or two male pigeons, as the circumstances of the parents allowed. (Lev. 12:1-8; Luke 2:24) If the son was the firstborn he had to be redeemed by the payment of five silver shekels (c. $2.38).—Num. 18:15, 16; see FIRSTBORN, FIRSTLING.
Many times the Scriptures use terms relating to natural birth in a figurative sense. (Ps. 90:2; Prov. 27:1; Isa. 66:8, 9; Jas. 1:15) The severity of labor pangs well describes inescapable suffering coming from other sources. (Ps. 48:6; Jer. 13:21; Mic. 4:9, 10; Gal. 4:19; 1 Thess. 5:3) In the sense of regeneration and a spiritual birth, Jesus said that one must be “born from water and spirit” in order to enter the Kingdom. (John 3:3-8; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23) Revelation, in symbolic language, describes the “birth of a son, a male,” in heaven after a period of agonizing pain.—Rev. 12:1-5; see LABOR PAINS.