In this blog post, I would like to talk about tahnik, which is an Islamic practice for newborns that involve rubbing chewed dates to the palate of the newborn. As it is, tahnik comes from the word hanak, which means palate in Arabic.
As with all Islamic recommendations, the prophetic advice for tahnik comes with deep wisdom and meaning, too. As a doula, I would like to offer some thoughts as to why I believe this practice should be commonplace for all Muslim babies, and other babies of other families who may resonate with it, too!
There are several components to tahnik:
1. It is performed soon after the baby is born, after the first few minutes of skin-to-skin contact, and before they start breastfeeding.
2. The father first holds the baby in his arms, recites the call to prayer to the baby’s ear, and then looks at him, and says, “Your name is such and such, you are my child, and I am your father.” (Naming can be delayed if a name has not been decided upon yet).
3. The father then chews on a piece of date.
4. He takes a small portion of that date, and rubs it across the baby’s palate.
5. The baby is then given to the mother to be breastfed.
I am in awe of this prophetic practice for several reasons.
Using the finger to rub across the infant palate is something only discovered in the last 70 or so years by physiotherapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths who have advanced training to work in paediatrics. And for a reason! Human touch there allows the relaxation and expansion of the baby’s palate and mouth, maximizing the ability of the baby to breastfeed with ease. Human touch also offers self-awareness to the baby.
This practice may help the baby’s tongue movement as well. The palate massage will definitely help with tongue movement from a biomechanical perspective, and the date may enhance that process due to its sweet taste in the baby’s cute little mouth. The baby will be motivated to lift their tongue upwards, which is a crucial milestone in order to breastfeed with ease.
Another prophetic wisdom is that many babies these days are born with low blood sugar. This may be due to their mother having gestational diabetes, because the baby is born very late, very early, or if they are large for their gestational age. There is evidence to support that dates are blood sugar regulators and detoxifiers. These days, the go-to medical recommendation for low blood sugar in babies is formula, however this only resolves the symptoms and is not medicinal in nature.
Here is a wonderful study about how dextrose gel rubbed inside the baby’s cheek at birth helps prevent brain damage from low blood sugar, and how it is more effective than feeding. Here is the link to an ongoing study about how doing the same thing with dates would help hypoglycaemia in babies.
Regarding the chewing, it allows the baby to be introduced to the parent’s bacteria. There is evidence that bacteria helps build the oral microbiome, and that bacteria plays an important role in tissue repair (gum & tooth enamel). In fact, holistic dentistry is far more advanced in effectively understanding the role of bacteria in the mouth far more than the traditional dentistry.
If parents are concerned about oral hygiene, I would suggest miswaking and using lots of clean water to clean the mouth beforehand. Otherwise you could also consider cutting up the miswak to pieces, grinding the pieces in a blender, mixing it with water and using that paste to brush your teeth. Perhaps this is something you’d like to put in your hospital bag? 🙂
Finally, did you know that dates contain a little bit of Vitamin K as well? For those of you who are hesitant about administering the Vitamin K injection at birth, perhaps this will give you some ease as a possible alternative! Please listen to your heart when making your decision. Your agency is important, and this is not medical advice.
Happy birthing dear parents!