Traditional Jews (Orthodox and some Conservative) have distinct practices and customs when it comes to pregnancy and the birth of children. Liberal Jews (Reform, Reconstructionist and other progressive movements) have pretty much accepted the modern practices of our secular culture.
Many traditional practices were first developed during ancient times and have been passed down to the present generation. In particular, pregnant Jewish women must be mindful of Kosher and the foods they consume to ensure the health of their babies.
The First Three Months
During the first few months of pregnancy, it was a tradition for Jewish couples to not reveal it to others, even friends and family. To do so is considered immodest- also there is an association with not opening the door to sadness. Remember throughout history, there was a much higher mortality rate for infants.
For the same reason, Jewish couples have historically refrained from buying excessive items for the baby until after he or she is born.
Pregnancy and Fasting
In Orthodox Judaism, Pregnant Jewish women are not expected to fast during the annual fast days with the exception of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av. During these events, expecting mothers are permitted not to fast if their doctors inform them that there is risk in doing so, but they must speak with their Rabbi regarding the matter. When she does consume food and drink it should only be done in smaller quantities, at specific intervals.
Again, for many Orthodox/Traditional Jews, the view on labor is heavily influenced by the Torah. Jews believe that God is wise and knows the best time for a baby to be brought into the world. Therefore, Jews do not believe in the practice of inducing the early labor of a child, partly because giving birth is potentially dangerous to the mother and to induce labor earlier than necessary can increase the risk. In situations where the baby has become overdue or his or her life is in danger, a Rabbi and doctor should be contacted.
Childbirth During Shabbat
The delivery of a child is considered to be potentially life threatening. As a consequence, under Jewish custom it may sometimes be necessary to disregard the Shabbat to make sure a child is safely born. The labor and birth of the child is considered a natural process but Jews want to reduce the desecration of the Shabbat as much as they can. Expecting mothers are allowed to visit a hospital during Shabbat when they are certain the birth is immediate.
When a woman gives birth naturally, she is considered to be in a niddah state. This starts at the first sight of blood and will last for 7 days after the child is born if it’s a boy and 14 days if the child is a girl. Attending a mikvah will usually be delayed for an additional six weeks.