Having a baby represents a huge milestone and period of change in anybody’s life, whether you are an expatriate living abroad or not. However, having a baby abroad and being apart from friends and family in a country in which customs and traditions are very different from what you would expect at home can make the process of pregnancy and giving birth seem all the more daunting and overwhelming.
In this article we present an overview of some of the things you can do if you are planning on giving birth abroad to approach the process in a controlled and measured manner.
Prepare and plan
Chances are that you may not be able to benefit from the presence of family and friends around you who have experienced pregnancy and birth in your host country first hand. For this reason, the planning and preparation you do yourself in advance will be all the more important.
Luckily, you will have around 9 months to prepare. During this time you should do the following:
- Educate yourself about pregnancy milestones and the process of giving birth in your host country.
- Find out all you can about prenatal, birth, and post-partum care and customs in the country where you will be.
- Carefully choose your doctor and facilities.
- Read any expatriate blogs that are available that were written by expat mothers. Contact the author with any questions you may have.
- Purchase a good expat guide.
- Follow all the steps outlined in this article.
Meeting with and talking to as many expatriate mothers as you can in your host country will help. Take time to learn about their experiences, both good and bad, so that you can learn about what you can expect and how you can prevent the birth and pregnancy from taking a direction that is not right for you. There are many ways of meeting women who have already experienced childbirth in your host country and/or are expecting around the same time as you:
- Join online expatriate forums and ask any questions you have about giving birth in your host country.
- Attend prenatal classes at your local hospital or through a private provider where you can meet women who are expecting babies around the same time as you.
- Try and find local support groups for pregnant women.
Check your insurance coverage
Get in touch with your insurer and establish what coverage you have for pregnancy and birth. You may be surprised to learn that many expat medical policies don’t fully cover the cost of giving birth, any pregnancy complications and/or the cost of care associated with birth defects.
Choose a hospital
The level of insurance you have and what is/isn’t covered by your medical policy may impact the hospitals that you can consider giving birth at. Make sure you research all available options and are fully versed on the costs associated with giving birth at each option. Many private medical facilities offer tours around the maternity unit that will allow you to view the facilities in advance and learn about the hospital’s birthing practices; make sure you make the most of these in order to ensure that you choose a clinic that is aligned with your needs and wishes. Attending a tour will also provide you with a chance to ask any questions you may have about giving birth in your host country.
Check medication and supplement availability
In your home country it may be customary for pregnant women to take dietary supplements during pregnancy. However, such supplements may not be widely available in your host country and/or you may need a doctor’s prescription for them. If you are struggling to get your hands on prenatal vitamins or similar supplements consider purchasing them online in your home country and having them shipped or asking a friend or relative to post them over to you. Of course, you will need to make sure that you are legally allowed to import them before you do so.
Understand cultural norms
Cultural norms in terms of medical care during childbirth are extremely different throughout the world. You can expect significant variations in the bedside manner of staff, the way in which they communicate with you, the standard of care and the levels of privacy you are afforded. Be aware of what the norm is in your host country so that your expectations are set in advance.
Create a birthing plan
A birthing plan is very important for all expectant mothers but it is especially crucial for expatriates who are giving birth abroad. As mentioned above, the typical birthing practices and procedures may be very different in your host country than they are in your home country and unless you want to be at the mercy of local customs and traditions you really should set your personal wishes for the birth in stone by writing a comprehensive birthing plan.
Consider the language requirements
If you are giving birth in a location in which the first language is different from your own and English isn’t widely spoken, you may wish to engage the services of a good translator to help you through the birth and to ensure that your wishes are adhered too at all times. Otherwise, there is the potential that the birth process itself may be quite traumatic, especially if you have no idea what is going on around you.
Check citizenship processes
Giving birth abroad may impact the child’s right to citizenship in both your host and home country. You should ensure that you inquire with the authorities in your home country in advance of the birth date in order to find out what you will need to do to make sure that your offspring is legally registered as a citizen. Every nation will have their own policy and it is important that you complete all the paperwork and registration requires in a timely manner. This will also be the case with the country of birth.
Understanding the local perception of breastfeeding
If you decide to breast feed your child then you will need to ensure that you research and understand the local perceptions of breastfeeding in public in your host country. While breastfeeding is completely accepted and even expected in some areas of the world, in others nursing your child in public may be frowned upon. Regardless of what your own feelings are on the matter, make sure you adhere to local laws and expectations at all times.
Pregnancy and giving birth can be a very overwhelming time in your life that is made all the more difficult by the fact that you are in a foreign country away from your friends and family. Chances are that you will find pregnancy more daunting than you may have done at home and it is precisely for this reason that you should be organized, seek advice and help where necessary and fully research what all your options are.
Have you given birth while living overseas? What practical advice can you offer soon-to-be expat mothers? Please leave a comment and share your insights and experiences.