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Maternity Care In Portugal: What The Options Are And How To Decide On A Birth Plan

Like many other EU countries, Portugal has a two-tier healthcare system. The state funds healthcare for the majority of residents, both expats and locals, with some small charges for basic appointments and prescriptions. There are also provisions in place for people who are unable to pay for their own care.Private health insurance is also available in Portugal. If you do not have Portuguese residency, then you will need to take out health insurance to cover your stay. Some expats also opt to take out a health policy to cover the period of time before their official residency documents come through, so that they do not need to worry about healthcare in the interim.

Maternity care is available through the Portuguese public health system. Like with all other appointments, you might be asked to pay a nominal fee to cover some of the costs of your healthcare.

You can also choose to pay out of pocket, athough this is very expensive: the birth itself can cost several thousand euros even if there are no complications during delivery, so if you want to have your baby at a private hospital then it is worth taking out insurance to cover this. BUPA and Cigna both have special packages that cover maternity care in Portugal.

Some insurers offer specific maternity packages in Portugal

You can pick up a pregnancy test at a local pharmacy in Portugal. This is called a teste de gravidez and will cost around €10. You can also visit your local health centre and make an appointment with the nurse, who can tell you if you are pregnant by doing a blood test.

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Pre-Natal Care In Portugal

Pre-natal care will include tests, examinations and ultrasounds, and will usually be carried out by your general doctor at your local health care centre. At your first pregnancy-related appointment, your doctor will give you a booklet in which you can record the dates of your appointments and the results of any tests throughout your pregnancy. It is useful if you can take this to every appointment you have, so that your healthcare practitioners can stay up to date with your needs.

All medical tests are free of charge in Portugal, although you might still need to pay the consultation fee for visiting your doctor. This is usually under €5.

If you want to take pre-natal classes to help you understand what you need to do after the baby is born, or if you are looking into pregnancy yoga, breathing classes or natural pain management, you will usually need to pay for these yourself. If you have private health insurance with a maternity option, then some of these classes might be covered in full or in part: check with your insurer to see if this is a possibility.

Towards the end of the pregnancy you will start to receive appointments at your local hospital, where you will meet the maternity team and they will be able to advise you on your options for delivery.

Giving Birth In Portugal

Portugal has an excellent standard of maternal healthcare, but some people complain that in public hospitals the points of view are outdated or old-fashioned. There are fewer options available for people who want to bring an untrained professional from an unregulated industry, such as a doula, into the birthing room; and there are fewer alternative options, such as birthing pools, available through the public health system than you might find in other countries. Home births are not available through the national health service.

Home births are not available on Portugal's national health service

If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor beforehand. They might be able to make provisions, for example they could write a note on your maternity booklet telling the hospital that your doula needs to be allowed into the room while you are giving birth. You can also talk to the hospital team about this when you go there for your final pre-birth checks.

Of course, opting to give birth in a private institution increases your choices. You can choose a home birth and find your own private midwife; and you will have no problem authorising specific individuals to be in the room with you when you give birth. If an emergency occurs during delivery, you will still be covered for this through your public health cover.

If you do choose to give birth in a public hospital, then you will need to talk to your doctor about what the default options are and how your wishes differ from these, so that they can add notes and special requests to your maternity card. In Portugal it is possible to request strong pain medication or an epidural, but it is much easier if you talk to your doctor about this ahead of time, so that the team at the hospital can make sure they have everything you will need on hand on the day.

You will usually stay in hospital for a couple of days after giving birth, and costs for this will be covered by the public health service.

Post-Natal Care In Portugal

The government regulates maternity leave in Portugal and your employer is required to give you at least 120 days’ paid maternity leave: one month before you give birth and six weeks after. This will be paid at 100% of your salary.

If you are self-employed, or if you do not have a job, you will be entitled to maternity pay funded by the state. The amount you are eligible for will be based on your personal circumstances; you can talk to your doctor about this or enquire at your local town hall.

If you give birth in a public hospital, you will be given a new booklet when your child is born. Here you can record all post-natal appointments and checkups, as well as vaccinations and your child’s developmental milestones.

Maternity leave cover is excellent in Portugal

Unlike in some other European countries, the national health service does not cover post-natal care in the home. You will not be visited every day by a health visitor or maternity nurse, for example. However, about a week after you have given birth you will have a one-off visit from a health representative who will check how you and the baby are doing. They can then refer you to further care if you require it.

Some public health centres run post-natal classes at a reduced rate: check to see if this is something your local doctor provides. There is also a wealth of privately-run classes available, and this can be a great way to make friends with other new parents. You can usually find these advertised online, or on noticeboards around your local area.

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