This landlocked, southeast Asian country with a population of 6.52 million, was a French colony until it gained independence in 1949. It has a birth rate of 35.5 per 1,000 population, and an infant mortality rate of 83.3 per 1,000 live births.

Many traditional beliefs and customs are still followed by Laotians. When a woman is found to be pregnant, she does not involve herself in any ceremonies that involve spirits—even though Laos is predominantly Buddhist, animist beliefs remain especially high in village societies. Women continue working right up to giving birth, with some babies reported to have been delivered in rice fields. If a woman dies in childbirth, the family often pays for costly ceremonies to placate the spirits. Curiously, although birth is regarded as ...

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