Having Babies in Norway

Monday 2 March 2015

Prior to moving abroad, everyone I knew gave birth in Canada and while I personally hadn't gone through the process, I had a general idea of what pre and postnatal care looked like there.  Once I stepped into the expat lane, I was fascinated by all of the countries my new friends had given birth in, regardless of where they're originally from.  From South Korea to France to Dubai, it was interesting to me (even pre-pregnancy) as to how it all went down.  Sure, giving birth is giving birth no matter where you are but each culture brings it's own set of methods.  Norway is no different.  While there are similarities to what I might be familiar with, there are also differences.

On Prenatal Care…
+Midwifery is alive and well in Norway.  In fact, the majority of all babies are delivered by midwives in hospitals without a physician present.  Pregnant women have the choice to use their regular GP (fastlege,) a midwife or a combination of the two for their prenatal care but most doctors will strongly recommend you visit the midwife at least once as they are considered the experts on labour and delivery.

+Pregnancy is treated much less like a medical condition and much more like a normal part of life.  Like many aspects in the Norwegian healthcare system, common sense prevails.  Many tests that are routinely run in North America aren't even mentioned here.  I didn't have a glucose test and strep b was never brought up.  My iron levels were checked with a finger prick a couple of times and I was required to bring a urine sample to every appointment.  I had blood drawn once.  Despite this, maternal mortality rates are one third of the United States and nearly half of Canada.  The same goes for infant mortality rates.  Medical intervention during labour is also much less common.

+There are also private midwives and private physicians that you may choose to go to for care.  Of course, there is cost involved as they are not part of the regular healthcare scheme.  Also, at the hospital, the person that delivers your baby is the person on call regardless of who you've seen for your entire pregnancy.

On Labour…
+Almost all women give birth in hospitals in Norway.  (Home births, at least in this region, are quite rare. I've also never heard of any birthing centres.)  In the Stavanger hospital, there are two places in which one may give birth.  The first is the 'birthing loft' which is for uncomplicated, normal pregnancies and is completely run by midwives and baby nurses.  It is recommended that all women start there unless their situation requires closer medical attention.  Should a situation arise, or should the labouring woman want an epidural, they would be transferred to the first floor.  There really isn't much difference between the two other than the fact that the first floor is outfitted with more medical equipment and there is a physician consulting with the midwives regularly.  My midwife explains that both the doctors and the midwives work very well together and rely on each other and their expertise to assist the labouring women.

+In Stavanger, mothers and babies stay in the hospital for 3 nights after a normal delivery.  There is a hotel within the hospital with an entire floor dedicated to maternity.  Depending on room availability, fathers and other family members may also check in.  The rooms are exactly like a hotel room except they include a large changing table in the washroom and a nursing station is located at the end of the hallway.  Midwives and baby nurses will check on you several times daily and are a phone call away should you need anything.  There was also a standard itinerary for each day including learning to bathe your baby and other health tests for the infant.  The stay is cost-free for mothers but other family members pay for their stay and food.

On Cost…
+The government literally pays you to have children.  Every baby born in Norway is entitled to a Lump-Sum Benefit (including mine!)  In 2014, the sum totalled over 38 000 kroner or over $6000 CAD.  This is to help take care of the extra costs associated with having a child.  The payouts don't stop there.  One also receives 970 kroner per month ($160) until the child turns 18.

+Speaking of money, prenatal care is also completely covered under the national healthcare scheme.  As soon as you are officially pregnant in the eyes of the system, you don't even have to pay the nominal fee per appointment.

On Parental Leave…
+Norway has a very generous parental leave.  One chooses between taking 49 weeks at 100% pay or 59 weeks at 80% coverage.  There are some regulations as to how the leave can be used (read about it here) but essentially, both the mother and the father are entitled to some time off after the arrival of a new family member.

+It is quite common for Dads to take a substantial amount of paternity leave.  During the day, I see many men pushing prams and collecting groceries.

+Breastfeeding is highly encouraged and very common in Norway.  Breastfeeding in public is also very common and I've never seen a woman use a cape or cover.

+When mother and baby return home, a visit from a health sister will be set up.  She'll come to your home to check in with you and go over the schedule of appointments and wellness checks for your baby.  She'll speak to you about your labour and make sure that any concerns are addressed or will direct you to the appropriate venues.

+High-end strollers and prams are the average here.  Bugaboo, Emmaljunga and Stokke are the most popular on the streets.  More affordable car seat/stroller options aren't even really available here.  I assume with the cash benefits, people are more willing to spend greater amounts on baby gear.

I had nothing but a positive experience being pregnant and giving birth in Norway.  I have even joked that should we decide to expand our brood in the future, we might have to move back.

I'm curious - have you or someone you know given birth abroad? What was the experience like?  (IE, if Norway isn't in the cards, where should I move next?)
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