Monday, May 2, 2011

Honoring Our Bellies: Belly Henna

May is Honoring Our Bellies Month at Well-Rounded Mama!

During this month, we will be blogging about pregnancy bellies in women of size, honoring the work our pregnant bellies have done, and showing the diversity of pregnant bellies in women of size.

Today we talk about Belly Henna.

One of the more fun things some women are doing to celebrate their pregnant bellies is decorating them with henna art.

Above is the henna tattoo of a dear birth-world friend of mine, also a woman of size, from her Blessingway. 

Isn't it lovely

This is one idea I never got to use during my pregnancies and now I wish I had!  We did belly painting with my kids, but of course it wasn't as lovely as this.  This is just too cool!

For those who are not familiar with them, henna tattoos are temporary.  They get painted on with a special paste, made with henna.  At first it looks dark, like this.

In time, the henna paste rubs off and a temporary light-orange-to-golden stain is left on the skin, like this.

The stain (known as "mehndi") on the skin will go away in a few days to a couple of weeks in most people. It's often done on the hands and feet as well.

The intent of doing henna art in pregnancy was originally to protect the child.  Quoting from the Henna Caravan website:
Lawsonia Inermis or henna is a small bush that produces a red dye that has been used cosmetically and medicinally for over 9,000 years. Many countries including Morocco and India have traditions of applying henna during the third trimester of pregnancy. Henna is believed to protect and bless the mother and child from any evil or malicious spirits that may be near during delivery. The red coloring of the dye and protective images used in the patterns guard against the evil eye and are thought to protect the pair during the child's difficult passage into this world.
Here's how getting a henna tattoo works.

Henna powder (ground from the dried leaves of the henna plant) is combined with lemon juice, sugar, and essential oils (like lavender) and made into a paste, then applied onto the skin in decorative patterns.  The paste must be left on for several hours. 

At some point after the paste is dry, most henna artists have you come back to "seal" the design by applying lemon sugar syrup, pump spray hair gel, or liquid bandage, etc. The longer the paste can be kept on, the better the tattoo.  Eventually, however, the paste rubs off, leaving the "tattoo" behind.

There are a few precautions to be aware of.  You want to make sure your artist uses only benign ingredients; occasionally some artists add unsafe chemicals or use "black" henna (which is really PPD, para-phenylendiamin, a.k.a. black hair dye) instead of true henna.  These can cause blistering or other problems.  Always ask the artist what is used in their henna paste before agreeing to a tattoo.

According to some websites, henna artwork should be avoided in women who are extremely anemic or women whose babies have G6PD deficiency or hyperbilirubinemia. Any woman who has had (or who has had a child who has had) a chronic or acute condition affecting the blood system or immune system should also not receive henna.  Other than that, though, belly art with henna is thought to be a very low-risk decorative option.

I've had henna done on my hands in recent years, but seeing how lovely these henna tattoos came out, I sure wish I'd known about it during my childbearing years!  Way cool. Would have been fun during a blessingway ceremony.
Just another way you can celebrate your belly and your baby during pregnancy!!  (And who's to say it has to be limited only to pregnancy!)

*Thanks to Angela and Stacy, both women of size, for sharing their henna pictures with us.

Here are some more links about henna for pregnant bellies: - general information about henna in pregnancy - pictures of various belly henna designs - e-book about henna traditions postpartum - info and pictures - a kit you can order - organization of certified henna artists  - information about henna use in general - info about henna for pregnancy


Kristen said...

What a gorgeous way to celebrate pregnant bellies! I've only ever seen pictures of it online, but this is definitely something I'd like to do if and when I get pregnant again.

(By the way, thanks for including the disclaimers about what types of henna to avoid during pregnancy...and probably at any time!)

Todd said...

Although I'm a guy,I too find henna art on pregnant bellies REALLY BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!