Background: Pregnancy and childbirth are socio-cultural events that carry varying meanings across different societies and cultures. These are often translated into social expectations of what a particular society expects women to do (or not to do) during pregnancy, birth and/or the postnatal period. This paper reports a study exploring beliefs around childbirth in Nepal, a low-income country with a largely Hindu population. The paper then sets these findings in the context of the wider global literature around issues such as periods where women are viewed as polluted (or dirty even) after childbirth. Methods: A qualitative study comprising five in-depth face-to-face interviews and 14 focus group discussions with mainly women, but also men and health service providers. The qualitative findings in Nepal were compared and contrasted with the literature on practices and cultural beliefs related to the pregnancy and childbirth period across the globe and at different times in history. Results: The themes that emerged from the analysis included: (a) cord cutting & placenta rituals; (b) rest & seclusion; (c) purification, naming & weaning ceremonies and (d) nutrition and breastfeeding. Physiological changes in mother and baby may underpin the various beliefs, ritual and practices in the postnatal period. These practices often mean women do not access postnatal health services. Conclusions: The cultural practices, taboos and beliefs during pregnancy and around childbirth found in Nepal largely resonate with those reported across the globe. This paper stresses that local people's beliefs and practices offer both opportunities and barriers to health service providers. Maternity care providers need to be aware of local values, beliefs and traditions to anticipate and meet the needs of women, gain their trust and work with them.