What you need to know about giving birth in Switzerland
Going through pregnancy can be overwhelming no matter where you are in the world, but giving birth in a foreign country can add to the anxiety. We spoke to women who've given birth in Switzerland to find out about their experiences.
What happens if I get pregnant in Switzerland?
If you fall pregnant in Switzerland, it is important to head to your gynaecologist as early as possible to access the antenatal care and information you need to have a healthy pregnancy.
In Switzerland, your health insurance covers several check-ups during the entirety of your pregnancy. However, only one of those, your first prenatal examination, is covered by insurance during the first 15 weeks of being pregnant.
Erica Johnson, who moved to Switzerland from the UK just before the Covid pandemic hit, found using the maternity services an overall positive experience despite initially struggling with the admin and logistics side of things.
“When I initially found out I was pregnant I wasn’t completely sure about how to proceed," she told The Local. "In the UK I would have just visited my general practitioner. However, my insurance company was very helpful and explained that it would be better to go directly to my gynaecologist. I was able to have early scans at six and seven weeks which is not standard practice in the UK, and I found it very reassuring."
In addition to your first check-up, your insurer will pay for two ultrasounds to assess the development of the baby, determine if you are expecting multiples and identify any malformations or anomalies. But don’t worry: Should complications arise, and additional appointments be necessary, your health insurance has you covered.
Erica opted to have non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) at her 12-week check-up which detected measurements the medical staff found a little concerning.
"We had an amniocentesis and gene testing done," she said. "Of course, as first-time parents this all felt very overwhelming, however, I cannot fault any of the staff/medical professionals. They explained every option to us and were happy to talk through all the risks vs benefits."
Deciding on a birth plan
Should you give birth at a hospital, at home, or perhaps at a birth centre? This is a question many women ask themselves when finding out they are having a baby.
In Switzerland, giving birth in hospital is by far the most popular option, but what really matters is that you choose a place for the birth of your child where you will feel the most comfortable and in the best hands. However, keep in mind that in some cases the course of a woman’s pregnancy also plays a role in deciding where the baby will be born.
Mariam Ismail, originally from Egypt, was among the many Swiss residents to choose a hospital birth, opting for her personal gynaecologist to deliver her baby.
“I felt like I was in good hands with my gynaecologist," she told The Local. "But also, my family and my husband’s family are all used to giving birth in hospitals, which is why it only made sense for me to do the same.”
If you decide to give birth in a hospital, you will benefit from the fact that medical care is guaranteed around the clock for both you and your child. This can help put you at ease during a stressful time. Alternatively, an outpatient birth allows you to leave the hospital just a few hours after welcoming your child and recover at home.
Expectant mothers also have the option of a home birth guided by an experienced midwife, or a birth centre, which combines the family atmosphere of one’s home with the presence of several experienced midwives.
Switzerland further offers so-called confidential births for women who become pregnant unintentionally and must keep the pregnancy a secret from those around them. In those cases, women have the option to give birth in a hospital under a pseudonym.
Most Swiss hospitals hold information events for parents-to-be and allow you to tour their delivery and postpartum wards. Once you have decided on a hospital, it's best to let your gynaecologist or midwife register you a few weeks before the birth.
When labour symptoms begin, it is common practice to call the maternity ward before leaving home. Depending on how often and severe your contractions are and whether the waters have broken, they will recommend that you come to the hospital for a check-up or wait at home a little longer. The birth is then attended by a midwife on duty unless you choose to bring along your own midwife.
After the birth, you and your baby will generally stay in the maternity ward for a few days. During this time, you can recover from the birth, get to know your child, and be supported by the nursing staff. The maternity ward will also answer any questions you may have about breastfeeding and instruct you on caring for your baby.
Mariam said that the care she received during her stay in the hospital could not be topped.
“The midwives were constantly checking up on both, the baby and I, making sure we didn’t need anything," she said. "The food was lovely, unlike any hospital food you would get in most countries. Some of the dishes I had were actually better than foods I’ve had in many restaurants."
Maternity leave in Switzerland
In Switzerland, maternity leave is fixed at 14 weeks (98 days), while father are allowed two weeks paid leave (14 days). Both maternity and paternity allowances are 80 percent of the salary, capped at a maximum 196 francs per day.
However, cantonal regulations, personnel regulations and collective employment agreements can provide for more generous solutions.
Women also may not be dismissed during pregnancy and maternity leave.
What about aftercare?
Though Erica found herself unsure about how postnatal care works in Switzerland, she soon sourced her own midwife via a Facebook group.
"I was so impressed with the level of care my midwife provided and the number of visits that the basic insurance covers," she said.
"For the first week my midwife came every day and then we gradually reduced to once/twice a week. It was so reassuring to have someone there each day when you are in a fog of exhaustion and often pain, to answer all those initial worries and support us as we adjusted to our new life as a family of three.
"She helped us bath our baby for the first time, supported me as I learned to breastfeed, monitored the baby’s weight, checked on my physical healing and was able to suggest other sources of support."
Though both Erica and Mariam found Switzerland’s care of pregnant woman and its hospitals exceptional, neither were informed about postnatal depression.
“I was never explicitly informed about postnatal depression, but I knew enough about it from my own research and my midwife frequently checked in on how I was coping mentally,” Erica said.
Mariam added: "I have been informed about postnatal depression mainly by friends and family, but not exactly by any healthcare representative."