Being pregnant is one of the most special times in a woman’s life. You cherish the little one inside and look forward to meeting your baby. But when you are not from the Netherlands, it might be a good idea to investigate the birth setting in which this life-event is taking place. Because yes, it is true, the Dutch have worked out a sophisticated birth care system you will not find elsewhere in the world. Here five things you did not know about birthing in Holland. Because you want to be prepared, so you can have the best birth experience as possible.
We have a vivid stork population to deliver your baby
Did you know that a highly statistically significant correlation exists between stork populations and human birth rates across Europe? When I was a little child in the eighties of the last century, storks were on the red list of endangered animal species. I still remember seeing a stork for the very first time in a stork breeding centre in Zegveld, a very joyful event. With the help of the Vogelstichting (Birds’ Association) and breeding programmes, storks have now returned to the Netherlands and can be seen building their nests on many places on the countryside. So nowadays your newborn babies can be delivered by real-life Dutch storks ;-). And that’s important, because storks are the Dutch symbol of childbirth, and you can see signs and dolls of them popping up in gardens and windows of the homes of newborn babies.
The majority of Dutch women do not give birth at home
Although many articles and blogs on expat sites celebrate the Dutch home birth tradition and describe a birth culture with a strong preference for natural births, in reality most Dutch women are giving birth in the hospital. Yes, in the 1950’s about 80% of all babies were being born at home, but things have changed substantially (Source: Perined). Birthing has become more medicalised over the years and giving birth in the hospital has become conventional. It is true that with a healthy pregnancy you will always start your labour at home, but many moms-to-be will either choose to give birth in the hospital or a midwifery-led unit (geboortehuis or geboortecentrum) or will be transferred to the hospital because of a medical reason.
We have a unique birth care system
However, we still do have a unique baby delivery system with midwifes and maternity nurses not seen elsewhere in the world. Unlike in other parts of the world, expectant mothers in the Netherlands are only required to visit a midwife. Here, a midwife is an autonomous healthcare professional with four years of training who is allowed to legitimately exercise obstetrics without the supervision of a medical doctor. So you do not have to visit a gynaecologists to make sure your baby is healthy, because midwifes are well trained and will refer to a medical specialist if there is a medical necessity. You will find more information about midwifery in the Netherlands on the website of the KNOV (Dutch Association for Midwifes). If you would like to step into the tradition of home birthing, make sure you find yourself an experienced midwife and consider attending a hypnobirthing course to master techniques for a calm, drugs-free birth.
Dutch women fight for their birth rights too
Because of an increasing medicalisation of birth, some Dutch women and birth right activists united and founded a Birth Right Association where birthing mothers could independently gain advice about their freedom of choice for individual birth wishes. It is called the Geboortebeweging and was founded in 2011. They own a thriving private Facebook-group where interventions, guidelines and protocols are discussed by the Dutch birth right community. Another initiative was founded in 2015 and is called Zelfbewust Zwanger. It is a client association of pregnant women in Holland that promotes the interests of pregnant women in birth care on a national level. They are involved in scientific research, development of quality standards and information materials, policy development and implementation in birth care.
Post-partum care is mostly private in the Netherlands
Unless you actively seek out further postnatal support & guidance, your midwife will be your only health care provider in the postnatal period after the baby has been born. Because the Netherlands has an individualised culture, the 40 days of care for the newborn mother provided by the female line in the community is not present or reduced to some visits during the “kraamweek”, the first week of motherhood. This is one of the reasons you will have maternal nurses visiting you at home in the first week of having given birth covered by the health insurance. Maternal nurses are not medically qualified. They do check the basic health of you and your newborn baby and perform small household chores, so you can focus on your recovery and bond with the baby. After six weeks, your midwife will usually perform a last check-up. Nowadays, besides this “official” care, more in-depth postpartum support is becoming more popular, for example provided by a holistic therapist or postpartum doula. In this way, you can also give yourself a warm landing as a new mother, focusing not only on the baby but also on this new phase of your own life, also called matrecence. An example of such holistic mother-care is Ayurvedic massage, which is usually given to mother all 42 days after the birth in India.
Do you have additional expertise or experience to share about giving birth in Holland? Please let me know!