Last week I gave birth to baby Annabelle at the Clinica Alemana in Santiago de Chile.
Already a few pregnant Expater buddies have asked me about my experience and any tips I might have.
I’m generally against offering advice, as every child and mother to be is unique, but here are 20 pointers which you might consider if you’re with bump here.
- Check in. I went to the clinic at around 9pm and was asked when I thought I might give birth. Honestly! What a dumb question… Babies hardly send you an email reminder when they’re about to pop. Apparently the reason was that my contractions were still mild and insurance will only cover three nights for a vaginal birth and four nights for a cesarean. So I was offered the chance to go home and return later, for example after midnight to gain an extra night. I didn’t fancy a taxi birth, so I decided to check in immediately.
- Language. While my doctor spoke reasonable English, all other staff and nurses didn’t. Ask in advance if you don’t feel confident enough in Spanish, but be prepared for the occasional charades game. And no, despite its name, staff at the Alemana do not speak German either.
- Natural births. I opted for a natural birth (i.e. non intervention, without pain relief etc) and it seems this is rather unusual here. It’s worth checking your doctor and midwife’s stance and experience, whatever style of birth you opt for. For me, a lot about giving birth is a positive mental attitude and I don’t appreciate terms like ‘pain’, and ‘suffering’ in the labour ward.
- Pain relief. I’m scared of needles and the idea of surgery freaks me out. But sometimes relief is necessary and in Chile the use of epidurals is much more common in the UK and doctors are very experienced in administering it. I can’t speak from experience, but I was told by one midwife that the type of epidural used here is different from other countries too. Apparently it still offers a certain level of sensation and the mother to be can walk freely or lie down while under its effect. Gas and air, as administered rather freely in the UK are less common. It’s worth checking what type of pain relief you can choose from, should you need it.
- What to pack. As you’d expect from a top notch private clinic, you don’t need to pack much (click here for my list). I’ll be writing more about what to pack in due course, but in the meantime it’s worth noting that unlike the private clinic I gave birth to for my first child in Switzerland, you have to provide all baby clothes. Strictly speaking any food or drinks brought from home have to be signed off by the hospital, but I didn’t get busted for my packet of corn crackers. Everything else, including things to change the baby, and for your personal care is provided, along with a huge goodie bag of essentials to take home. While you’re given ample nappies for throughout your stay, you’re still asked to bring five nappies with you.
- How to pack. The reason why they ask you to bring a few nappies is for the first hour or so after the birth. You give birth in the labour ward and are then transferred to the maternity wing for the remainder of your stay. So you’ll need stuff for the labour itself and for when the baby is born (baby clothes, nappies, nightwear for you), as well as a separate bag or compartment for the second part of your stay. My stuff was all muddled together and it was a nightmare sorting it between wards in the midst of contractions.
- Your birth partner. I chose to give birth alone, that is with my midwife only. I don’t like too many people crowding the room, only those who are going to be of practical help. But you might like your husband, partner or a doula to be there with you. Check with your doctor and midwife how they feel about this so that they can be properly accommodated. As for afterwards, they’re treated like royalty, with breakfast and snacks free of charge and the option to order lunch and dinner as extra. A sofa bed is also provided.
- Visitors. The hospital has a very relaxed approach to visitors. I was told by one nurse that they prefer no visitors after 10pm, but even then they make exceptions.
- Your room. I don’t remember much about the labour room other than it had all the necessary gadgets for measuring the contractions and the baby’s heart rate. Alas there are no birthing baths in the hospital, only a shower. I opted for a shower lying down, with towels spread over the floor. A birthing ball (i.e. the type for yoga and excercise) is provided and my midwife came equipped with massage oils too. As for the maternity room, mine was a decently sized private room for myself with a TV, mini fridge, safe, sofa bed and bathroom with a large shower and a hairdryer.
- Interruptions. While you can expect to be waited on hand and foot, don’t expect much sleep. While in the UK my baby and I were left to fend for ourselves very soon after the birth, here in Chile you’ll be lucky to get a moment to yourself. My biggest bugbear with the hospital was the constant interruptions. On one occasion, after finally falling asleep at 6am, a nurse insisted on waking Annabelle up ten minutes later for a check up. *smacks face emoji*.
- Safety. As well as introductions from the staff after every rota changeover, you’ll also be told that only members with a yellow badge are authorised to take your baby from your room. If you’re alone and need to shower you’re requested to call the nurse team to look after your baby in the nursery in the meantime. For added peace of mind, or rather to totally freak you out, all babies are provided with GPS trackers. Annabelle’s kept falling off and it could be easily cut so I’m not sure how effective it is, but there you go…
- Health checks. While the interruptions are annoying, it’s reassuring to know that you and your baby are being monitored so closely. Your blood pressure, heart rate and stitches are checked at least once daily and your baby’s general health is checked by nurses at least daily too. Be sure to remove any finger nail polish before you arrive – the sensors can’t pick up your readings if you’re wearing polish I was told. A detailed check over by a pediatrician is also scheduled for your little one. If like me, you have any doubts, be sure to persist. Initially one doctor suggested Annabelle didn’t have a tongue tie issue, but a follow up appointment showed this wasn’t the case.
- Nappy changing. Here in Chile, nurses do EVERYTHING. I didn’t change a single nappy during my stay. I’m not complaining and as a mother of two boys already I’m an experienced nappy changer. But girls are different and I’d forgotten some tricks about dealing with newborns so I was keen to learn. The nurses seemed a little surprised when I wanted to help. If you’re a new parent, it might be worth signing up to a prenatal class as you won’t learn much about aftercare during your stay.
- Pampered in Pampers. A big cultural difference I’ve found in Chile vs the UK is the use of cologne, ear piercing and the general dressing up of babies. When I called back Annabelle from the nursery after a quick shower she returned with slicked back hair and smelling of perfume. The nurse was super proud, but I couldn’t help but laugh – she looked like a villain from a Bond movie. An ear piercing service is also available for an extra cost if that’s your thing. Apparently a hair dressing service for new mums is also on offer. I planned to give it a go, but alas Annabelle still hadn’t had her tongue tie sorted so wasn’t up to being left boobless for any length of time.
- Staff. All the staff, without exception were absolutely lovely and extremely attentive. If you need help, one press of the button at your bedside and they come running (with a smile).
- Food. I’m a near vegan and menu choices were a little sparse. OK it wasn’t up to Swiss hospital standards, and the dairy free bread was tougher than my shoes, but it was still pretty darn good. I’m on a dairy free diet just in case Annabelle has the cow’s milk protein allergy that my second son does. Thankfully the clinic understands the difference between dairy, milk and lactose. However, be sure to mention any allergies in advance so that the dietitian can note it in your records; don’t expect the catering team to understand your particular allergy or food choice. While you won’t go hungry (breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and supper are provided) there’s also the option to request extra snacks (fizzy drinks, dried fruit etc.) and the cost is added onto your final invoice.
- Civil registry. My husband was tasked with registering our child the day after the birth. But work got in the way so he hasn’t been able to do it yet. I’m told (and sincerely hope) that we have up to 30 days to do this. For now all it means is that as Annabelle is not registered, we’ve been unable to register her at the Clinic either, so we’ve paid in advance for a follow up surgery instead of being able to charge it direct to our insurance.
- Memories. Included in your stay is a photo of your newborn (it’s a single photo of your baby only, not a planned family shoot). Be sure to ask to opt out if you don’t want your newborn’s pic published on the Clinic’s website as well as being emailed to you. There’s also the option to have the birth details published in the Mercurio newspaper for about $19,000 CLP.
- Valuables. Jewelry, high tech cameras, laptops… leave them at home if you can. I was strongly advised by three separate midwives to leave my jewelry at home. Sadly I’ve heard stories of valuables going walkies from hospitals in lots of countries, not just Chile. Yes there is a safe, but still.. best to be safe than sorry.
- Check out. Before you check out you’ll need to request a document from the nearby reception and get it signed off before leaving. As a matter of protocol, you’ll have to leave assisted by wheelchair too. All this takes time to organise, so if you’re in a rush do plan ahead.