Being pregnant is one of the most exciting yet most frightening experiences in life. If you happen to deliver your baby in the Netherlands, you might need to prepare yourself for a little culture shock.
Dutchies are known for their down-to-earth attitude, and so is their baby delivery system. A Dutch pregnancy revolves around one magic word: natural (well, and eating beschuit met muisjes.) So I plundered 24Baby, the number one website on giving birth in the Netherlands, and compiled this list of stuff you gotta know before that magic moment happens.
Maternity leave in the Netherlands
If you are employed when you get pregnant you are entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave (zwangerschapsverlof). This is true even if you’re self-employed!
You are also allowed to decide when you start your leave. However, make sure you tell your employer a minimum of two weeks before you intend to take your maternity leave in the Netherlands
Paternity leave in the Netherlands
You are entitled to five weeks of paternity leave (vaderschapsverlof), for which you get 70% of your regular pay. You could get full pay if your employer is willing to supplement it.
The Dutch want to medicalise birth as little as possible. Therefore the role of the doctor or a gynecologist is often minimal. Instead, Dutch women put their faith in their midwife (verloskundige).
Finding a midwife that suits your needs and wishes can be a bit of a challenge for expatriates, but the easiest way is asking your general practitioner for a list of local midwives.
When you find a midwife, you will have your first appointment between week 6 to 10 of your pregnancy (zwangerschap). This first contact is the perfect opportunity to discuss how you visualise your perfect labour plan. Waterbirth in your living room? Completely in the range of possibilities.
Your midwife will guide you during your pregnancy and in the end, helps you deliver your baby. If you and your midwife don’t seem to click, you can always choose to switch to another midwife during your pregnancy.
Home sweet home
Home births (thuisbevalling) are very common in the Netherlands. In fact, 30% of all births take place at home, making the Netherlands the country with the highest rate of home births in the world!
The keyword here is again natural. A lot of Dutch women find that home births are much more personal and relaxed than giving birth in the clinical environment of a hospital. If you are that rare expatriate that wants to give birth at home, make sure you get yourself a kraampakket. This box contains all the unexpected things you need for giving birth at home.
If only the thought of a Dutch-style home birth makes you nervous, you should make it clear to your midwife you want a hospital birth. Most hospitals have special information events that provide you with a look inside the maternity ward and practical information about going into labor.
You should keep in mind, that if you don’t have a medical indication for a hospital birth, you need to pay a contribution (more than €300) for the costs.
Giving birth in the Netherlands: no pain, no gain
Dutch women are known for their no-nonsense mentality and extend this point of view towards giving birth. Most Dutch women find that pain relief is something unnecessary, and should not be taken for granted. And that you shouldn’t take it for granted is made painfully clear by the Dutch hospitals.
If your baby decides to show up outside office hours, some hospitals won’t have an anaesthetist available and you can’t expect any pain relief. Getting pain relief during your home birth is not even an option since midwives are not qualified to administer anaesthetics. Luckily, pain is temporary…
Postnatal care, the wonder called kraamzorg
After the hard work of labour is done, you should be out of the hospital within hours. This seems a bit harsh, but there is no need to worry. The Netherlands have an excellent postnatal care system: kraamzorg.
This is a maternity care assistant, who will be your rock for at least a week after the birth. The kraamzorg will help with things like breastfeeding and babycare. This type of postnatal care is something unique to the Netherlands.
Dutch rusk with muisjes
To make your Dutch-style pregnancy complete, you can’t go without eating Dutch rusk with muisjes (literally meaning little mice) after the baby is born. Muisjes are anise seed sprinkles that come in the colors blue (for a boy) and pink (for a girl).
The anise in muisjes was thought to stimulate lactation and was a symbol of fertility. It is a custom that the parents of a newborn baby give rusk with butter and muisjes to all of the baby’s visitors at home, their colleagues and the classmates of their other children. There really is no proper celebration without some food!
Make sure you’ve got your stork!
You may have noticed some interesting looking house decorations here and there. These usually consist of the backside of a cuddly stork attached to people’s doors or windows.
No, these are not some avant-garde Christmas/Easter/Halloween decorations, these are just decorations to let your neighbours know that a stork has arrived at your house (carrying a baby of course, how convenient.)
In the Netherlands, the stork has become a symbol of childbirth, so naturally you should have a stuffed stork to mark the occasion!
Have you given birth in the Netherlands? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: mijoko/Pixabay.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2016 and was fully updated in March 2021 for your reading pleasure.