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Having A Baby in Italy

Having A Baby in Italy

by The Travel Captain
Having a baby in Italy can be quite different than having a baby, especially if it’s your first, in the country where you grew up.  After hearing so many stories from friends and family in the States, I was sure I knew everything there was to know about the hospital delivery for my first pregnancy.  I was wrong.  When you’re in Italy, you have to go with the flow because you never know what to expect.
Even if you read about giving birth in Italy from Moms in Rome, Milan, Florence or Vicenza, it doesn’t matter.  Each province/region in Italy is different with its own set of rules and ways of doing things.  That is pretty much the case with everything, whether it’s having a baby, trying to get residency, registering a foreign car, whatever.  So here is my experience with having a baby in Italy, specifically in the region of Emilia Romagna and specifically in the province of Ravenna.
The first difference was my favorite.

Weight Gain During Pregnancy in Italy

Every OBGYN and every doc related to your pregnancy in Italy will tell you that you shouldn’t gain more than 9 kilos (roughly 20 lbs) during your entire pregnancy.  I can’t tell you how wonderful that is to hear, especially in the latter months of your gravidanza when you’ve already crossed the 30 lbs mark.  So much fun.  All my friends in the States, no matter how thin or heavy pre pregnancy gained well over 35 lbs.  I gained 37, maybe more.  Let’s say I stopped looking when there were two weeks left to go.  I mean, I wasn’t aiming to gain as much weight as I could but it was difficult to stay under 20 lbs is all I’m saying.  Thankfully half my weight gain flew off during delivery.
I agree gone are the days when it’s okay to tell pregnant women to stuff their faces with whatever they want… but not all women are built the same.  At 5’9 and a size 8 pre pregnancy, I wasn’t the size of a standard Italian woman.

People will touch your belly.

Italians love babies and they love to look at pregnant women.  People you don’t know i.e. strangers will say “Auguri” or best wishes to you in the street, at restaurants, in public toilets.  That’s not so bad.  It’s when the hands start reaching for your belly that it becomes a bit weird.  I started coughing profusely whenever I felt my personal space was about to be invaded.  No thank you.

Costs of Having A Baby in Italy.

Everything is Free.  If you are resident, you can have a doctor part of the national healthcare system, follow your entire pregnancy and give birth at a public hospital all for free.  I believe you wouldn’t have to pay anything even if you are not resident and must give birth while in Italy.  I had a private OBGYN (mainly because none of the public docs spoke English and it was taking me a while to get pregnant due to Hashimoto’s disease) for which I paid monthly visits to.  But I gave birth in a public hospital for which I paid zero.
I also opted for more in depth pre natal screening tests (the Bi-test here in Italy between the 11th and 13th week of gestation) which cost us about 800 euros.  This was a level above the basic screening tests offered at no cost and a level below the amniocentesis test, which I did not do.  An IUI (intrauterine insemination) in this region will cost you about 1,100 euros per try and IVF (in vitro fertilization) about 5,000 euros per round.  There is a subsidized clinic in Florence that charges approximately 500 euros per IVF round if you are resident in Italy and under the age of 40.

The delivery may be free BUT Baby items are really expensive in Italy…

…compared to the U.S.  I am prone to shopping locally for items wherever I am, whether its groceries, clothes, furniture, etc but baby items in Italy come at a hefty premium, really hefty.  It was something I couldn’t justify spending on.  We’re talking 50% to double the price, whether it was at PreNatal, Toys or smaller baby stores.  And the premium was on everything from clothes, to bottles, to strollers, etc.  So… I got everything from Amazon.it.  I had to search a lot to find well priced, comparable items from reputable sellers but I did it.
My baby registry was also created through Amazon.it.  Don’t make your relatives and friends buy from a registry set up on Amazon.com and ship it to Italy.  The shipping costs and duties for customs are insane.  A few visits to Google Translate and the familiar buttons and interface of Amazon make it easy for anyone to use the Italian Amazon.

Want to set up a baby registry on Amazon.it? Here’s how.

having a baby in italy
P.S. if you’re still having trouble, just open Amazon.it in Google Chrome and it will translate the pages for you

BUT the Italian Government also gives you money for having a baby aka the Baby Bonus

So Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe.  I’m sure expenses have a lot to do with it.  Maybe if the baby items in the stores weren’t so ridiculously priced, people would be having more babies!  With a national average after tax salary of around 1,300 Euros per month, who can blame Italians for not reproducing.  Enter the Baby Bonus.  If you had a baby after 2017, the Italian Government gives any Italian resident regardless of nationality and income, even me, 800 Euros (amount may have increased in 2019) per child.  There are even further incentives, like a monthly stipend, if your salary or lack thereof qualifies you.  Furthermore, in 2019, discounts are now available on formula and other items for new moms.  Thank goodness.  Visit INPS for more information and how to apply.

An epidural is not guaranteed in Italy, not even close.

Yes, let me say that again.  You do not have the right to pain meds while giving birth in Italy.  You have to call the hospital beforehand to make sure they administer them.  Our local hospital, just 5 minutes away, did not!  So I had to choose a hospital 40 minutes away just to ensure that I could get one.  Wanna hear something funny?  I wasn’t allowed to get one in the end because I dilated too fast!  But anyway, there are other procedures that you must follow well before your due date to ensure you have access to an epidural.
First, call the hospital to see if they give them.  Two, sign up for the mandatory course offered by the hospital about epidurals.  Three, you must get an ECG at least one month prior to the due date.  Four, you must meet with the anesthesiologist well before the due date.  And just a warning, docs in Italy in general are much more conservative about administering them.  So, even if you check all the boxes like I did, you may not get one in the end.  Be prepared for that.  The book about Hypnobirthing I read in my second trimester came to some good use.

Many people don’t speak English in Italy…

…not even doctors and other health care professionals.  After living here for more than 2 years, I became accustomed to this and prepared but you may find that a bit scary in the delivery room.  After meeting the docs and nurses at the maternity ward of the hospital I was set to deliver in, all of them reassured me and my husband in Italian that there is a universal language all understand when delivering a baby.  That is indeed very true.  Luckily, my assigned, awesome obstetrician knew a fair amount of English. I believe all would have went smoothly even otherwise.  Learn the Italian words for push, stop, pain, etc  “spingere, ferma, dolore” for your own peace of mind.
P.S.  My whole delivery team at Ravenna were female!  I loved it.  Towards the end of my hospital stay, I learned that my last check up was to be done by a male OBGYN and I asked for a female one 🙂  No problem.

Lab levels are Strict

My pre-pregnancy fasting blood sugar was 80, then 86 during pregnancy, which is totally NORMAL.  I was flagged for being at risk of gestational diabetes.  I couldn’t believe it.  So after my first trimester, I had to record my blood sugar after every meal with one of those little machines that prick you.  Even though my blood sugar never surpassed 110 after one hour of eating or went above 90 for fasting levels, I had to prick myself 3x a day for the rest of my pregnancy.  It was also noted in my “file” on the computer system.  So every doc and hospital visit I had for the 2nd and 3rd trimester lead with “oh i see you are at risk for gestational diabetes” in Italian.  No I AM NOT.  Again, so much fun.

You can have a birth plan but understand that none of it may be followed.

If you are the type of person that needs a 10 page birth plan followed, don’t have a baby in Italy.  Again, you must go with the flow.   The only instructions on my “birth plan” (a one pager given at the free, public birthing classes during pregnancy for you to take to the hospital when in labor) was that my husband remain with me at all times given the possible language barrier and that I wanted the baby to remain with me after birth.
Some hospitals in the southern regions of Italy don’t allow your partner in the delivery room. Some hospitals whisk the baby away for tests and measurements right after delivery.  I stated that I wanted that done later if everything went smoothly.  So when I gave birth, our son was immediately given to me and fed that important colostrum and we had skin to skin contact for several hours.  I also opted for the baby to sleep with me in my room for those mandatory 48 hours in the hospital post delivery.

My delivery room in Italy was huge and informal!

I was wearing the H&M Mama shirt I arrived at the hospital in during my whole delivery.  My husband remained in his jeans and sweater, no hospital gown for either of us, no surgical mask or gloves for him.  Glenda, my obstetrician, right after the baby was born said to us in English “where’s the music”.  (Loved her!) So I grabbed my phone from my purse and turned on the 80’s playlist from Spotify.  Of course Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” came on as I held my newborn son for the first few minutes of his life.  I still tear up every time I hear the song.
Having a Baby in Italy

This is Glenda, my obstetrician holding our newborn.

The public hospitals in Italy can be basic so bring your toiletries, slippers, robe, a towel (my hospital had towels, diapers, pads etc but some others don’t). post partum pads, mesh underwear, lip balm, a couple of onesies and outfits for your newborn, diapers and whatever else you need to make you feel comfortable. Click here to see my initial Baby Registry on Amazon.it  Below are some items I took to the hospital and other things I found really useful during and after pregnancy.

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Overall Hospital Experience of Having A Baby in Italy

I liked the hospital I delivered in.  It felt like a friendly maternity ward, the nurses and obstetricians were lovely and informal.  There was none of that medical hierarchy stuff you find in the States, where someone in a sterile white coat (everyone treats like God) is followed around by all the nurses.  I was comfortable with them handling my newborn.  Also, the food was pretty good.  I got to choose from a menu for every meal.  Even though they had put me on a low sugar meal plan (for no freaking reason whatsoever…as stated earlier), I had what seemed like decent cuts of meat and not-soggy vegetables, tagliatelle with ragu, fresh fruits for dessert, etc.  A lot of times, I shared my food tray with my husband.

Apart from the positives, there were a few things I did find irritating.  I arrived at the hospital around 9 pm and the front doors were already closed off so we had to walk from the parking lot down an endless corridor and up the elevator to the maternity area while I was experiencing more than mild contractions.  What irritated me the most is that in between contractions, I had to sit in an office and go through my whole medical history AGAIN, even though everything was written in my file.

I also didn’t like that towards the end of labor, random doctors and nurses were entering my delivery room.  I was comfortable with my team of three… random people please go away!  Last but not least, all rooms are double rooms.  In some hospitals, you can pay to have it be private if it’s a slow night.   My hospital didn’t have that mechanism available.  I got lucky though, no one was in my room.  But in order for my husband to spend the night, he had to pay 170 Euros (roughly $190) per night!  That was a bit steep for such a vulnerable time. Not cool.  Oh yeah, there are also a lot of walk-ins everyday into your room post delivery.  Docs in the morning, cleaning ladies, food service, nurses to take your vitals.. it felt like a never ending stream.

Other than that, the overall experience was a positive one.

Have you given birth in Italy?  Drop me a comment below with your experience or if I left anything out!

Another one of my guy… just because

Having A Baby in Italy

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