Giving birth is never easy at the best of times, and expat mums face some extra challenges, from language barriers to differing levels of care and birth customs. However, Italy – which is child-minded and has a good public health care system – is a good place to be if you’re expecting.So, if you’re resident in Italy and are looking at an addition to your family, what do you need to be aware of?
Will I Have To Pay For Pregnancy Care?
No. The good news is that Italian hospitals don’t charge for anyone giving birth or undergoing emergency procedures related to childbirth. Pre and post-natal classes are also covered by money paid as taxes. This means you won’t have to worry about form filling or insurance issues. However, if you think you might need an epidural, you’ll need to make an appointment with the anaesthesiologist to discuss this before giving birth, and you will have to pay for this.
You will need to choose a hospital or a birthing centre, a choice which will largely depend on who your doctor is. If you’re in the public system, you’ll probably be enrolled in whichever hospital your doctor is linked to. You can give birth at home, but in practice only about one percent of mums-to-be in Italy do this.
The website Bellies Abroad runs an advisory service with ‘mombassadors’ who can give you a full range of advice about choosing a hospital as well as offering a networking service to link you up with other new mums and dads nearby.
It’s best to pre-register with the hospital to avoid time being taken up with form-filling when you go into labour, although bear in mind that one unfortunate expat did this and still ended up answering complex questions in Italian between contractions, so this is not foolproof!
What Do I Need To Remember?
You will need to bring clothes for you and your baby as well as a supply of diapers. Expats report that conditions in state hospitals are, while clean, very basic, including the food. One new mum reported that she had to bring her own loo paper, and others have said that it’s wise to bring towels. Private rooms are recommended if possible, as sharing with a stranger – even one in the same circumstances – can be disruptive, especially at this emotional time of your life.
Italian hospitals have a one-person rule, which means that only one other person of your choice, usually your partner, is allowed in your room during delivery. This is to limit infection.
The language barrier and different birthing customs can be challenging. American expat Natalie, based in Rome, writes:
“I had a very positive experience at Citta di Roma but if there is one thing I would change, it’s that I would have been clear that I wanted the baby to stay with me. After Giacomo was born, he was placed briefly on my chest before being whisked away to be weighed, checked and bathed. Jimmy went with him while I was told to stay in the room to recover for an hour. I didn’t see the baby again during that time and if I had known that was the standard procedure, then I would have been firmer about having the baby stay with me for longer before being taken away by the nurses.”
Natalie adds that you might need to make your own notes about feeding times and so forth. She didn’t realise that she had to fill out the clipboard chart attached to her baby’s cot herself. So chat to your midwife, obstetrician, or the hospital about their procedures in good time and make sure that everyone is as clear as possible when it comes to expectations and regulations.
Don’t forget to register the birth (within three days at hospital, or within 10 days at a Town Hall) with the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths (the Registro Communale Dello Stato Civile). Remember that your child won’t automatically be eligible for Italian citizenship just because they’re born in the country; they will have the same nationality as you do, unless your partner happens to be Italian.
Will I Get Maternity Leave?
The Italians are generous when it comes to maternity leave. If you’re working, you’ll get at least five months full pay, but if you’re in an environment that could be harmful to your growing fetus, you should get the whole nine months. Italy is not quite so accommodating when it comes to paternity leave, so if you’re about to become a dad, it’s best to check with your employer to see what their specific arrangements are.
You might even find that you get a subsidy for having a child. Italy has a shrinking population and therefore is keen to encourage people to have children.
What About Pre- And Post-Natal Care?
Expats report that prenatal care is good. If you’re going to prenatal classes, don’t be shy – try to join in conversations even if your Italian is not quite up to scratch. New mum in Genoa, Patricia Bowden, writes:
“I was very early on in my Italian studies and couldn’t yet pick up on the specific social cues. Once I did though, I waited for the opportune moment (which took a while, because I had to understand what was being said before I jumped in) and began making friends. Mastering this skill changed my entire experience. So mums-to-be, don't feel like you're being ignored – just take the leap!”
You’re also likely to find that, whether you’re visibly pregnant or you’re venturing out and about with your infant, the child-centric Italians will make an effort for you, from giving you seats on public transport to accommodating you in restaurants. Kids in Italy are a real ice-breaker; you’re likely to find all sorts of people suddenly start talking to you and admiring the new arrival!
Have you given birth in Italy? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!