6 traditional Malay customs for your baby

Malay mummies and daddies, are you feeling a little lost about the different customs you will have to follow for your new bundle of joy? Here’s our guide to help you understand more about the various traditional practices for Malay babies in Singapore.

Malays believe that babies are “blessings from God”, and with their total fertility rate (TFR) coming in at 1.64 compared to Chinese in Singapore  (1.08) and Indians (1.09), this second largest minority group appear to have strong family values.

But the next generation of Malay parents here might have lost touch with their traditional Malay customs, so we put together a list of different Malay customs for babies you should know.

This is especially helpful for all the new Ayah and Ibu (or Bapak and Mak) out there to help you welcome your little bundle of joy!

Malay customs for babies

Malay customs for babies: Massaging your baby helps her to relax and sleep better.

1. Urut and barut (Traditional massage and tummy wrap)

As soon as your little prince or princess arrives into the world, he or she will get the royal treatment with a relaxing massage, which is commonly practiced in Asia.

Traditional Malay infant massage, or urut bayi, is usually done when your little one is only two days old, where she is given a gentle, head-to-toe massage with virgin coconut oil every day after a nice warm bath.

This five- to ten-minute massage is a wonderful opportunity for mummy or daddy to bond with your baby. Studies show show that it positively affects infant hormones that control stress, reduces crying, helps your bub relax and sleep better, as well as encourages interaction between you and your child.

After the massage, a baby tummy wrap (barut), which is made of cloth and has string-ties or a Velcro strip, is then wrapped around your little one’s abdomen to keep the area warm.

Although there is no scientific evidence, it is believed that this helps to prevent colic as well as support a newborn’s weak abdominal muscles.

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Malay customs for babies: To “bedung” or swaddle your baby helps him to sleep better and reduces the chances of SIDS.

2. Bedung (Swaddling)

Swaddling a newborn is a common tradition across the globe. In traditional Malay customs for babies, little ones are usually swaddled in small blankets not just for warmth, but to give them a sense of security, calm them down and minimise their startle reflex since their arms and legs are snugly wrapped up.

Hospitals also automatically swaddle babies before presenting them to parents, as this helps the baby to sleep better, cry less and prevent them from scratching themselves.

Studies have also shown that babies who sleep on their tummies are at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so newborns who are swaddled properly and sleep on their back are less likely to fidget and shift enough to end up sleeping on their tummy instead.

 

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“Cukur Rambut” is also known as “Cukur Jambul”.

3. Cukur Rambut (Hair-shaving ceremony)

Considered a rite of passage for Malay babies, the Cukur Rambut (or hair shaving ceremony) is also your bub’s very first haircut.

A lot of Malay families in Singapore take this opportunity to officially introduce the little one to extended family, similar to how the Chinese have a Baby Full Month party. The ceremony can either be a private and intimate gathering or a grand and lavish event.

A Cukur Rambut ceremony is generally held at the end of the post-natal confinement period, which lasts 44 days, although more Malay mothers are opting for only 20 days.

It is the norm to invite close family members and friends to attend this joyous celebration where a reading from the Quran is usually done to bless the new child and a marhaban group will sing praises and good tidings to wish the baby well.

The baby is then carried by the mother or father to each elder or religious leader present to snip off a lock of hair, which is then placed inside a bowl of water or a young coconut shaped like a bowl. At the end of the whole ceremony, the hair is buried in the ground.

Although not compulsory, some families weigh the locks of hair and donate its weight in gold, or the cash equivalent, to charity.

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The Naik Buai is no longer common Malay custom in Singapore as parents prefer a more modern celebration.
(Image courtesy of My Dream Cradle)

4. Naik Buai (Cradle-rocking ritual)

An old traditional practice, which is now less common in Singapore, is the Naik Buai, otherwise known as the Cradle-rocking ritual.

It is usually held after the Cukur Rambut ceremony. It is an event to formally welcome the wee one into the world and to announce the new arrival to all family and friends.

Back in the olden days, the baby’s cradle was actually a hammock spun by either the grandmother or the eldest member of the family using special sugar palm leaves. A piece of freshly cut wood was placed inside, as it was believed it could absorb negative force or ward off evil.

However, many modern Malay parents nowadays prefer to skip this custom and opt for a more modern celebration with beautifully decorated contemporary cradles instead.

Ms Suhaila Sarip, the owner of My Dream Cradle, explains that Malay parents in Singapore are picking up on this latest trend of renting the more modern cradles with unique designs and whimsical themes for their baby’s special celebration.

She says, “The Naik Buai Malay custom is seen as outdated here in Singapore and parents prefer to just have the Cukur Rambut ceremony or a Baby Shower, where family and friends can come and see the new baby for the first time. The trend now is to have these unique cradles at their baby’s events, much like a wedding dais, for the baby to comfortably rest in while the guests can easily take a peek”.

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An aqiqah should be done only if the parents can afford it.

5. Aqiqah (Animal sacrifice)

An aqiqah is the sacrifice of an animal which is usually done ideally on the 7th, 14th, or 21st day after your baby is born, or any time after that.

It is believed to be a good way to announce the birth of your baby, invite family, neighbours and friends to celebrate your new arrival and to include the poor and needy in your celebrations by offering them food and meat.

However, according to the Malay customs here, most parents in Singapore prefer to opt for aqiqah packages in Indonesia. The entire sacrificial ritual is done over there, as well as cooking and distribution to the poor.

The animals that are sacrificed are either camels (older than six years), cows (older than three years) or goats (older than two years), which must be in good health and not suffering from any handicaps, illnesses. The animals also cannot be undernourished.

An aqiqah is performed only once in a lifetime and is usually paid for by the parents before the child reaches puberty, after which children can choose to do it for themselves but only if they are able to afford it.

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It is compulsory for all Muslim males to be circumcised.

6. Sunat (Circumcision)

Before reaching puberty, Malay-Muslim boys will have their penis circumcised, which is the removal of excess skin covering the penis – otherwise known as the foreskin. It is a prophetic tradition  mandatory for all Muslim males.

Nowadays, it is usually done at a clinic or hospital by a medical professional and is apparently a quick and painless procedure which takes about one or two weeks to heal. During the healing process, the boys usually wear loose pants or even a traditional sarong (cloth wrap) so as to avoid direct contact with the affected area. It is customary for them to receive gifts from close family and friends.

Some parents may even choose to send their baby girls for female circumcision, although it is not compulsory nor a common Malay custom in Singapore. The purpose of male circumcision is for better hygiene and to lower risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases in adulthood, such as Syphilis, Chlamydia, Herpes, and even HIV Aids.


Did you do all of these Malay customs for babies mentioned in the article? Are there any more Malay customs you think we should add to our list? Let us know in the comments below!