Alfie is now eight weeks old and this is a blog post that I have been intending to write since I was just 20 weeks pregnant! I thought it might be interesting to consider the differences in the process of having a baby in the US and the UK. Of course, I don’t have personal experience of preparing for and giving birth in the UK, but with many of my friends having children I feel that I have a general understanding of the British way.
I really enjoyed being pregnant. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I was doing the right thing in terms of exercise, what I was eating, how much I was taking on (moving house in your third trimester is not the most sensible of actions) and whether I should have been doing more or less of all the above. But one part of being pregnant that I didn’t have to worry about was the care I was getting from my doctors. I felt that it was excellent and wondered if I would receive the same standard in the UK. Of course here in the US you pay for your medical services. We are lucky enough to pay into a good medical insurance scheme which does make the whole process cheaper but it’s still not the NHS.
I had monthly check ups with my doctor, a specific OB/GYN of my choosing (you get recommendations on which doctors to use here), and then at 30 weeks they went down to fortnightly checks and then from 36 weeks they would be weekly. (I never got that far!) So I felt like my doctor was keeping good tabs on me and through our regular meetings I really felt that I was able to build up a good relationship with him. This was a big difference about having a baby in America. The OB/GYN that I saw at the doctors surgery would be the one to also deliver my baby. You can choose a midwife-led birth here but they are not the norm like in the UK. (As it turned out the nurse looking after me during my labour was in fact a midwife so I felt as though I was in doubly good hands!)
A big difference that I think applies between having a baby here and in the UK is the vitamins and immunizations that are required. I was prescribed a pre-natal vitamin that the doctor strongly recommended. I actually ended up taking multiple vitamins instead of the prenatal one as we were unhappy about the levels of Vitamin A it contained. I was and still am, taking calcium, iron and folic acid. Like in the UK, I had to have a flu shot as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and like in the UK, I had to have an immunization against whooping cough. But this is where there was another difference. Here, I had TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria and Pertussis), Nick had to have it and I was advised that my mum (visiting for a month) should also have it. In the UK, only the mother is advised to have the vaccine.
Here in the US, the 12 week scan is optional. It is the 20 week scan that everyone has to have. And at the 20 week scan, finding out the sex of the baby is far more common than leaving it as a surprise, as we did. In fact, my OB/GYN commented that he had only delivered a handful of babies where they didn’t know the sex. We were pleased that we kept Alfie’s gender as a surprise but it did make it hard to buy any clothes in advance. I relied on Marks & Spencer’s and Mothercare international deliveries (and my mum’s luggage!) to stock up on plain vests, white sleep suits and socks.
I was genuinely surprised by the differences in what foods you were allowed to eat in both countries. Here in the US, it was recommended that you don’t eat deli meats or canned tuna, but shellfish in the main was fair game! Of course still no soft cheeses or liver. I ate a lot of hard cheese based sandwiches. It’s a wonder I didn’t pile on more pounds than I did.
We attended childbirth classes, organized through the hospital where we would be giving birth. I’m not sure how similar they were to UK NCT classes. They were certainly not as social as we had hoped they would be. We saw the class as a way of meeting other local parents to be, and although it could have been, the classroom-like approach simply wasn’t conducive to getting to know each other. I feel like this is a real missed opportunity.
When it came to the birth, we knew that they wouldn’t let me go very much past term before they induced me. Certainly not like the two weeks allowed in the UK (depending on circumstances of course). However, Alfie couldn’t wait to greet the world and was 2 1/2 weeks early so thankfully, I never got to that stage. When my waters broke before any contractions started, I was advised to go into hospital straight away, where I had to stay and where they said that my baby would be delivered within 24 hours. As far as I know in the UK, they give you 24 hours at home to see if things happen naturally before encouraging you to go into the hospital.
So I ended up laboring in hospital. And here’s a difference, there was free parking! And Nick could stay. There was a bed chair in the delivery room for him to use and then when I was moved to the mother & baby ward, there was a bed for him there too. We also got a free celebratory meal through their room service. It was like a hotel, except one where they wake you up to take your temperature and blood pressure every few hours.
A big difference – and one which even my doctor and his students were surprised at – was that in the UK, you are offered gas and air as pain relief. No such thing in America. You either go natural or you go for drugs (epidural or narcotics).
We were encouraged to stay in the hospital for two nights and as we had our own en-suite room, it felt very reassuring to do so, particularly as Alfie had been in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first 36 hours. However, unlike the UK, once we were out of the hospital, I felt like we were flying solo. No healthcare visits to your home here and no drop in clinics available. We took Alfie to the doctors for his check when he was 5 days old (followed by a 2 week check and then his 8 week check) and I had a 1 week and a 4 week check. I think that this is good and bad. For the neurotic first time mother, there feels to be no real way of telling how your baby is getting on – you have no idea what to compare it against. Neither do you have any precise idea about how much weight they are gaining. It also means that you have to get out of the house (and therefore be dressed) for a set time just a few days after getting out of hospital. For me, who had scheduled my 40 minute 1 week check up and Alfie’s 40 minute 5 day check up for the same day (plus the 40 minute round trip in the car) this also included the possibility (and fear) of how I would manage to time his breastfeeds, something both Alfie and I were still learning to do. Getting to that appointment on time felt like a major accomplishment.
And now, what differences are there? Well there are a lot fewer classes and resources for parents of young babies. I am struggling to find baby massage and baby yoga classes that I can go to and those that I do find are really quite expensive. I hope that once I start really looking into it, I’ll find a wealth of things to do but for now, walking round the park and looking up new nursery rhyme lyrics on the internet will have to be good enough.
The differences have been interesting and I really couldn’t say if I thought one was better than another. Overall I would say that my prenatal and labour care were second to none and although I would have perhaps felt more comfortable having a regular healthcare visitor after the birth, not having that resource encouraged me to use my own intuition and put our parenting skills to the test straight away.
As I said at the start, I don’t know what it’s like to have a baby in the UK, having an American baby is all I know!