I’ve heard plenty of myths about pregnancy and childbirth in the Netherlands, most of which seem designed to scare the life out of expectant expats. Here’s my experience on which are fact and which are fiction …
Home births with no pain relief whatsoever – that’s the word on the street in expat circles about having a baby in the Netherlands. At 28 weeks pregnant, and armed with the real stories of a few mamas, I can confirm that this isn’t completely true. Or false.
Myth: You will be pressurized into having a home birth
My childbirth preparation classes, held in English and full of expats from every corner of the world, kicked off with each of us introducing ourselves plus our ideal birth plan. With 100% of the group favouring hospital, several ladies described their horror at the rumoured Dutch love of home births – particularly those from countries where epidurals or elected C-sections are the norm.
My course leader, who has clearly heard this myth a million times, was getting a little exasperated by the end. She informed us that home birth is a shrinking minority – now at around 16% of births. A little Googling, however, reveals that this is still significantly higher than the rest of the Western World – UK rates range between 1-3% for example.
My experience – and the point made by our course leader – is that no-one tries to push you into a home birth. Practically, you can decide what you want to do once you go into labour (so they tell me … ). If the answer’s hospital, your midwife calls your nearest hospitals in order of your preference once you’re ready to go there to see who’s got space.
The Dutch do still leave telltale indicators of their historic love of home births. About a week ago a big box was delivered from my health insurance company. Opening in excitement, thinking they’d sent me some pregnancy freebies, I realized with horror that the contents – thermometer, surgical gloves, mattress protectors – were the paraphernalia for a home birth. I’m pretty sure I told them I’m going to hospital. Maybe they’re just helping me keep my options open.We’ve hidden the box away.
I’ve also heard of more than one Mum who ended up having an unintentional home birth because they leave it late here in the labour before sending you to hospital. In our class, Charlie asked how you know it’s the right moment to go. The response: you need to learn to be more Dutch and assertive and demand that you want to go to hospital now. I didn’t find that hugely reassuring.
As an important aside, there’s a huge global debate around the safety of home births. I have seen the Netherlands somewhat high infant mortality rate in Europe mentioned as a reason to them. While I have no qualifications and no bias on the subject (though I was personally a home birth), as far as I can gather there’s no evidence the stats are linked. Besides, the rate is still very low globally and continues to decrease.
Myth: You give birth without pain relief
Dutch attitudes to birth are coloured by its perception as a natural rather than medical event. In my second childbirth class we discussed all the drugs you can ask for, but from both the course leader and the visiting doula there was an overtone that these can have some affect on your baby.
As soon as you ask for drugs, your birth is labelled as ‘medical’. This means a Doctor becomes involved and your midwife, who’s been with you up to this point, has to go home, having no experience or jurisdiction in drug-giving. From July 2014 – at least in my nearest hospital – the plan is that midwives will be allowed to administer gas & air. Let’s just say my fingers are crossed.
So no, it’s not true that you have to go without drugs. The Mums I know here have never had problems in that regard. But yes, you do get the sense if they could convince you you can do without they’d like to.
Myth: If you want to give birth in hospital, you have to pay for it
This one’s actually true.
Everyone in the Netherlands has private health insurance; there’s no UK-style NHS. This insurance covers maternity care including midwife appointments, main scans and the kraamzorg (see below).
What it doesn’t cover is birth in a hospital unless you have to go there for medical reasons or you choose a premium insurance rate (which we’ve opted for). The cost of the hospital birth isn’t horrendous – around €200 – but it’s still another indicator towards home birth, particularly for the cash-strapped.
Myth: After your baby’s here, someone comes to your house and does your cooking and cleaning for you
This is also true.
The Dutch government provides a kraamzorg (maternity nurse) who, generally speaking, comes to your house for 8 hours a day during your baby’s first week. They’re there to give hands on help, as well as do your shopping, cleaning and cooking so you can relax, recover and bond.
On paper, this sounds like the most fantastic thing in the world. When I tell my friends they’re all immensely jealous and Mums I know here have mainly given glowing reviews of their kraamzorg experience. The only time it hasn’t worked perfectly is when there’s been personality conflict. We’ve been encouraged, should this happen for us, to be honest and ask for someone else. As our midwife said – it’s crucial to have someone you get on with at this precious time.
Do you have experiences of pregnancy and childbirth in the Netherlands? What’s your take on these myths? Or, if you’re from a different country what’s the attitude to home birth where you are? Feared or favoured?