Giving Birth in The Netherlands
This is part two in a series of three posts detailing my practical observations of giving birth in The Netherlands. This is not a post about my personal birthing experience…as in the OTT actual stuff that happened…for that you can read Knocked Up Abroad Again where I contrast my birthing experiences in Turkey and South Africa.
Let me say from the outset that this was my third baby. I gave birth naturally, in a hospital, attended by a kick-ass midwife. I cannot speak about c-sections, VBACS or birth with pain relief. This does not mean that I am biased towards natural birth. Every mother should be able to choose for herself and have that decision be honoured.
Ready? Here we go with Part 2…
Call the midwife.
If you’re having contractions or your water breaks, call the all hours number given to you by your midwives. The midwife on duty will meet you at your home and ask you a few questions about the colour of the water and if contractions have started. It won’t be a mad scramble to the hospital and you may labour at home for hours before being given the green light to head for the hospital.
Midwife vs Doctor
As I mentioned in part one, you will be attended to by a midwife throughout your pregnancy and birth. If you receive an epidural you will be handed over to a doctor who will deliver your baby, and the midwife will leave. Bear this in mind when deciding which option to follow. A birth attended by a doctor may be more medical, less personal, whilst a midwife lead birth can be intimate, quiet and personal. Just be aware of the consequences of each.
If you choose not to have pain relief there will be many labouring options available to you. A warm bath, bouncing on a yoga ball, massage, walking, playing your own music. It’s your birth and almost anything goes. Most hospitals will support a water birth, but you will be responsible for organizing your own birthing tub as well as filling and draining it after the birth.
An emphasis on natural.
30% of first time mothers in The Netherlands opt for an epidural. When you widen the parameters to all births in Holland, the percentage opting for an epidural falls to around 18%. In 2003, the figure was more like 8%. So epidurals are on the rise. But they are still not normal.
Why, in this day and age would a developed country still persist in painful natural births? The answer is not that the Dutch have higher pain thresholds than the rest of us, but rather that pain is viewed as a normal part of birth, and not something to be shied away from or denied. It’s a wonderfully Dutch attitude. Just get on with it. The system is designed to support you the whole way. Unnecessary medical interventions are few, emphasis is placed on listening to your body, pregnancy is not treated as an ailment. Every step of the way you are told, ‘you’ve got this’, ‘you are built to birth’, ‘trust your body.’ It works.
The natural practices we read about such as immediate skin on skin contact, waiting for the umbilical cord to stop pumping before clamping it, allowing the vernix to absorb into your baby’s skin naturally instead of being washed off…all these things are standard practice here in The Netherlands. In Turkey when I requested that my baby not be washed right away, the nurses looked at me as if I was insane. In Holland, the reply was, “Oh no, we don’t wash babies anymore, we just wipe them lightly and you wash them at home when you’re ready.”
All babies are given Vitamin K at birth. When I naively asked that my son be given drops and not an injection as is standard in Turkey and South Africa, the nurse smiled at me and said, “we haven’t injected Vitamin K since the 50s.” Drops it is then.
Home within hours.
Once you’ve given birth, don’t expect to hang around at the birthing clinic or hospital. If you’re fine and your baby is fine, you’re outta there! If you have your baby in the early hours of the morning, you may opt to stay the night at the hospital. But be aware that you will be charged for this night (although it is not a big amount). The room may be lovely, coffee machine, minibar, Netflix, but be warned, most people I spoke to say the food is terrible…and my own experience backs this up!
Part three is about the first few days at home with your new baby…and the much envied Kraamzorg. Want to know what that is? Read part three Postnatal Care in The Netherlands.
Read part one: Pregnancy in The Netherlands.
Read part three: Postnatal Care in The Netherlands.