Being Pregnant in the Czech Republic

I'm in my 36th week of pregnancy.  After zipping my coat till it's snug, kicks return from a protesting baby.  Her landscape form is often visible, but most often, my belly looks like I've just tucked a basketball or balloon under my shirt.  Though my pregnant figure may not be recognizable from behind, my walk is sure to give it away: like a cowboy who's been in the saddle all day.

I don't have week-by-week photos of my belly as it progresses, and I don't have a "we're pregnant!" announcement to show you.  Such things are not so common nor expected here in the Czech Republic.  (The baby shower that some American friends through me was definitely a curiosity for my Czech friends.)  What I can offer you is a description of how the experience of being pregnant here may differ from being pregnant in the USA.

Maternity + Parental Leave
I've completed two full weeks of my maternity leave, and ideally baby will develop for about 4 more weeks before she joins us this side of the womb.  By Czech law, women start maternity leave between 6 and 8 weeks prior to their due date.  This starts 6 months of maternity leave, which, if the woman has been actively working (for 270 days within the last two years), includes a percentage of her normal income (60-70%).  As maternity leave finishes, parental leave begins and lasts usually 2-3 years, and can be taken by either the mother or the father.  During the time, a government stipend is received.  The total stipend is the same for each mother, but the amount received monthly depends upon the length of leave.  After the parental leave finishes,  the child often goes into a preschool when the mom returns to work.

My final day of work was March 11th.  Since then, I've been washing and sorting second-hand baby clothes and ironing and folding flats for cloth diapering.  Freezer meals are my next big project.  Other women I know have spent the time before the birth similarly: physically preparing the home for the baby, resting, visiting and choosing the hospital where they'll give birth, attending pregnancy exercise courses, and attending birth classes.  Exercise classes for pregnant women are easy to find, and I began going to pregnancy yoga in January.  I've also seen courses for swimming, dance, and general exercise for pregnant women.

Hospitals and Birth Courses
Prior to my maternity leave, I took a couple of half days to visit the maternity wards of some local hospitals.  Many offer tours at fixed times.  One hospital (where we plan to give birth) had a 1-hour session with the parents, showing the birthing and recovery rooms.  We attended another tour that took about 3 hours at a hospital known for embracing and supporting natural birth.  We live in a city, and friends often spoke of three different hospitals where they'd given birth.  I suppose Czechs living in small towns or villages just opt for the closest hospital.  In addition to tours, hospitals offer birth preparation courses, which are focused on preparing the mom physically and mentally for the birth and time directly after.  My husband and I attended a private 3-hour birth workshop with a reputable doula.  I'm also enrolled for a two-part course on breastfeeding and baby-wearing (ie wearing babies in scarves).  Between my extensive reading (books, not anxious internet forums), these courses, and having plenty of supportive moms around me, I don't think I'll attend the hospital course.

Before I became pregnant, I'd already set up an appointment with an English-speaking gynecologist (OB/GYN), because I figured it was a responsible thing to do.  Before the day of the appointment, I became aware that I was pregnant.  As a result, I met with my OB/GYN from the very beginning and soon I had my  Some early-on bleeding led to more frequent appointments, and basically the whole pregnancy I had an appointment each month (with an ultrasound each time) plus a 1st and 2nd trimester screening at a clinic.  There were also blood draws twice and a test for gestational diabetes.  Around Christmas, my doctor also scheduled an appointment for me to have the baby's heart checked by a specialist.  It seemed excessive, especially since I'd especially asked about the heart at my second trimester screening, and I had him cancel it.  I've officially been to the doctor more in the last 8 months than in my entire life combined, and I've spent almost nothing on it (thank you, social healthcare).

One friend said that these frequent check-ups are one of the reasons the Czech Republic has one of the best infant survival rates in all the world, with 2.63 infant deaths/1,000 live births (The World Factbook).  It is only outranked by Scandinavia & Iceland, Bermuda, Japan, and Monaco.  This statistic holds even while the average age of first-time mothers has increased from 22 to 28 since the early 1990s (according to The Prague Post).  All that to say that no one need fear substandard care here in the Czech Republic.  This isn't to say that the system is perfect.  There are still ideologies lingering from the age of Communism, and in The Prague Post article above, it's very clear that the  Health Minister is very distrustful of home births, and I've heard that there are some obstacles that need overcoming if one wants a home birth.

Birth anxieties--or lack thereof
Looking forward to birth, I'm not too concerned.  At the beginning, I was concerned about language, but doctors should be able to speak English at the hospital where I plan to give birth (it's a "faculty" hospital, meaning that it also trains doctors).  Moreover, during birth courses, consultation with a not-quite-doula, and in my yoga classes, I've been able to understand well.  Another support has been my birth plan/wishes, which I've drawn up with the support of multiple people and which I've gone over with my husband (the hospital has an email address where you can send your birth plan in advance). Since my husband and I have been in dialogue about the birth process and interventions, I feel like he is competent to support me in communicating with midwives and doctors.

I still am a bit curious about visiting hours after the birth.  After the birth, women are moved to a recovery area, 2-3 beds per room.  While in shared rooms, it makes sense that visiting hours are limited.  It's possible to have a private room by paying an extra fee.  Besides the privacy, there is the advantage of 24-hour access for your husband/other visitors (and you can inform the hospital of visitors you want banned).  We plan to spring for the private room, but I have heard touching stories of how women bonded after rooming together after birth.

After the birth
I'm incredibly thankful for the system that exists here.  In the hospital, they refer to the recovery rooms as šestinedělí, coming from the root words of "six" and "Sundays."  In the USA, I never heard of anyone talking about a laying in period, but here it's respected and expected that the woman will spend about 6 weeks recovering mostly within her home.  With maternity leave benefits as they are, I feel as if I can take those "six Sundays" to recover from the birth and start life as a mother without giving a thought to returning to work.

So, from one American, I would say that being pregnant in the Czech Republic is not bad at all.  (Baby seems pretty happy with it as well.)


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