Expecting in the Netherlands – Notes from an ex-Expat

Dutch rainy evenings and a poor Netflix selection are apparently the best baby-making recipe. So, if you find yourself expecting in the Netherlands, the shared thoughts below may prove helpful. If anything, I sincerely hope they soften the brunt from the upcoming/already experienced medical culture shock.

Registration with a GP is a must
First things first. Upon arrival in the Netherlands you must register with a GP in your area. If you need hospital care during your stay, this is the first thing they ask for. For anything that may be wrong, you must be seen by a GP first. It is he or she who will then refer you to a specialist.

And so is insurance
Sort this out at the earliest possible.

In that first visit, your GP will be blunt
We found out we were expecting whilst on holiday back home. The gynae suggested I do a scan in the 5th week. In a visit to our local GP, we were fondly congratulated, prescribed prenatal vitamins, and offered a never ending list of things I should not eat, smell, do or get remotely close to. Two days later we travelled back to the Netherlands and I called my Dutch GP to set an appointment. First question was Why I wanted to see a doctor so early on; two, a statement that it was way too early and was I really sure I was pregnant? Appointment day came and in the darkness of 8am, we entered the clinic and received a very encouraging piece of advice: many pregnancies end in the first weeks, hence no need to make a fuss so early on. Astounded, I asked what I should do to ensure a safe pregnancy. ‘Go on with life as usual’, he said, ‘just no contact sports’. And that’s why Dutch women cycle until their due date and raw herring is sold so abundantly.

No scans before the 9th week
My GP back home suggested I get a scan in the 5th week due to the aforementioned abdominal pain. In the Netherlands, the first scan is done at Week 9. Welcome 4 weeks of worry.

During scans, you will meet a technician, not a gynaecologist
In fact, you might never get to meet a gynae if your pregnancy is a straightforward one. Coming from a country where we get to see one every four weeks and then every week close to the due date, this was quite a strange concept for my pregnancy-green self. That technician will not necessarily be friendly or very talkative, and they will not ask if you’d like to know the gender either. At twenty weeks, be prepared for an hour long scan, with a lot of facial expressions and little talk as the technician studies the foetus from head to toe. It’s also normal to be at wits ends, hoping and praying that all is well. Oh, and absolutely no photos! Even if you’re dying to share that first glimpse of your little bean to extended family, friends, neighbours and all your social media contacts.

Midwives are your best friends
They make time for you, are direct (who isn’t in Holland?) and believe in everything that is natural.

But there’s only so much the midwife can answer
As of week 8, I started experiencing pelvic girdle pain which left me limping on ice-covered kerbs from one meeting to the next. In my first appointment with the midwife, I told her about this. Blunt answer: I am not a physiotherapist, see one. Needless to say, I also received a many times the international answer to the many discomforts, aches and pains of pregnancy: ‘It’s normal’. It seems nothing changes on this front, wherever you may be.

Vitamins come from food
The general idea is that there is no need for prenatal vitamins. Food is enough.

If your roots are Mediterranean, then insist over and over again for your haemoglobin levels to be checked all throughout the pregnancy. In a blood test at the start of pregnancy, my levels were low but not drastically so. The midwife suggested I take a natural juice concoction to get it back to normal levels. By the time we moved back, I was having constant fainting spells, memory loss (including having to shamefully google the name of the President in front of guests), and shortness of breath. My iron levels had hit rock bottom.

Your unborn baby may be branded as ‘short’
But then they take one look at you and say it’s nothing to worry about as you’re no six-footer.

The decision for an elective Ceasarean section is only taken by a board of doctors
I.e there has to be a pretty good reason, breech not being one.

Your EDD will not be calculated on your LMP
The EDD is calculated at your 12 week dating scan. Result: two EDDs for us, one in August, another in September. The Dutch took the trophy on this front.

Your pregnancy notes will be in Dutch
Tough luck. If, like me, you move countries mid-pregnancy, then tougher luck watching your new midwives and gynae trying to decipher your notes.

Many give birth in the comfort (or otherwise) of their home
We moved back home at six months pregnant so my experience does not culminate with a birth in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, we’ve heard a lot about women giving birth at home. We’ve also heard stories of how fire brigades had to be called in to evacuate labouring women from windows, Dutch stairs being death-inducing. Without complications though, delivering at home is a most natural and beautiful feat.

The above, of course, are my own experiences based on care at Bronovo Hospital in The Hague. We met some amazing people on the way, learnt a lot in terms of directness and waved naivety goodbye. But the most special of all is the gained realisation that pregnancy and childbirth should be a most natural and beautiful time. Medical care is there to assist when there is the need; not to take over and be the lead.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Stephanie Cini says:

    The phrase “pregnancy-green self” wins the article. 🤓🤓🤓

    Well done.


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