I became a new mum recently, and one of the first things I wondered when I found out I was pregnant was ‘do I want to give birth in the Netherlands?’. For some expats, especially the ones from other European countries, giving birth in their homeland can be a consideration. In my case, I preferred to avoid all the inconveniences of having my baby in a country where I don’t live anymore and try the Dutch way.
Birthing practices in the Netherlands are quite unique, unlike any other country. Home birthing, kraamzorg, doulas are just some of the facets that make the experience unique. After experiencing by myself going into labour in Holland, I have formulated some conclusions about the Dutch system and its advantages/ disadvantages when you are an expat. Obviously, every case is different and this article is based on my own personal experience.
Pros of giving birth in the Netherlands
Your labour, your way
In the Netherlands, you can choose between having your baby at the hospital or at home. Although, according to my midwife, not many first-time mums choose home birthing anymore, having the opportunity to decide what kind of labour you want is a big advantage. The first time I heard about home birthing I must confess I thought it was madness. Once I got more information, I started to see the benefits of staying at home and not having to deal with transportation, new people, and unfamiliar places at such an intimate moment. But I keep thinking having your baby at home is an unnecessary risk that I would never take.
Nice professionals to support you
I don’t know if in my case it was a matter of good luck, but every professional who I saw before, during and after my pregnancy was super nice. In contrast with other countries, when you are pregnant in the Netherlands you don’t have to visit your GP or a gynaecologist unless there are complications. Midwives take care of you and carry out every check-up, and they also assist you during labour.
During my pregnancy, I had around 10 appointments throughout the 9 months, of which I saw around 4 or 5 different midwives. My midwife office had several professionals working there and, since you don’t know who will be on duty when you are in labour, it’s good to get to know most of them. Every midwife showed an approachable and reassuring attitude. Although I had a better connection with some of them, everybody was very gentle and professional. Hospital staff and the consultatiebureau nurse (she will also visit you and your baby at home) were also quite nice. Language barriers weren’t a problem either, as everybody can speak English and gave me the pregnancy and maternity guides in that language (also available online in other languages).
Kraamzorg, your private maternity care assistant
Once your baby is here and you leave the hospital (usually just some hours after delivery) the kraamzorg is waiting for you at your home. I don’t think any other country in the world offers this useful service, a really big help when you don’t have family here, and you are a first-time mum. The kraamzorg teaches you how to put the baby to sleep, bath him, feed him, and answers any questions you may have as a new mum. They can also run some errands and do light housework e.g. (changing sheets, keeping the bathroom clean, making a sandwich, etc).
Cons of giving birth in the Netherlands
Epidural is not granted
Although the number of women that receive an epidural in the Netherlands has increased in the last few years, compared to other countries, it is not a common practice. I remembered the first thing I said to my midwife at our first appointment was: “I want an epidural”. I also included this stipulation in my birth plan and I even went to the hospital to have a chat about pain management before the delivery. Nobody tried to change my mind or talked about any impediment, but in the end, I didn’t get the much-wanted epidural.
As soon as I arrived at the hospital during labour I asked for it. Then the delays started: First I had to ‘wait until my midwife arrived,’ after that ‘the gynaecologist had to evaluate if an epidural was an option for me,’ concluding with another long explanation about painkillers, (just in case you change your mind when you are having the worst pain in your life). The worst part was when I found out they didn’t have an anesthetist on duty. After some hours waiting for it, they told me an epidural wasn’t possible anymore because the time to push was almost here.
This is the truth about epidural in the Netherlands (something nobody told me beforehand):
• Some hospitals (e.g. Haarlem-Zuid) don’t have an anesthetist after office hours. If you give birth in the middle of the night they will have to call them.
• The gynaecologist who attended me in my 6 weeks post delivery appointment said: ‘the only way to make sure you have an epidural is having an induced delivery.’
Absurd paternity leave
Anybody who has had kids knows how hard the first 6 weeks are after the baby is born. If we want to have an equal society for men and women, it is fundamental to give dads time to spend with their partners and children, and have an active role during that time. Two days paternity leave (3 including delivery) is obviously not enough.
I remember how much I needed to have my husband by my side after labour, not only for physical help but also for emotional support. Having to deal with my recovery, a newborn, and his job was a big burden for him. This situation could have been so much easier with longer paternity leave.
Homesickness and loneliness
Giving birth away from home without your family can bring plenty of emotions to future and new mums, such as homesickness and loneliness. Expats tend to idealize their homeland (and also their family) when they have to face transcendent life events in their new country, and this can even accentuate these emotions.
My way of dealing with the lack of family in the Netherlands was hiring a doula, and that was the best decision ever. With my doula, I had somebody to call during and after my pregnancy. She was a familiar face close to me during labour and a professional that ended up being a close relative. In this link, you can find all the doulas available in The Netherlands.
As a new mum living in another country, it is also really important to be in contact with other mums. There are different groups where mums and dads can meet other parents, share advice and ask questions.
These are some links to fight against loneliness and stay in contact with other families:
Mamacafe This is a group for mothers who gather around every month. In Mamacafe you can also find breastfeeding specialists, in case you have any questions.
Haarlem Effect Find here playgroups in your neighbourhood where you can bring your little ones to play with other kids and you can have a coffee with other mums.
Haarlem Parents Facebook group where you can share tips and receive good advice.
Meet Up Here you can sign up for different groups and meet other families.
If you are pregnant and you are going to have your baby in the Netherlands, make sure you have all the information you need and nice professionals by your side. Having the best support is the best way to have an easy labour and a quick recovery. Your midwife can advise you about kraamzorg service, doulas, ultrasounds, childbirth preparation courses and any other matter related to your pregnancy.