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Ten things you need to know about giving birth in Italy

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Ten things you need to know about giving birth in Italy
Giving birth in a foreign country is a challenge - but worth it. File photo: Pexels
14:04 CET+01:00
The prospect of giving birth can seem daunting at the best of times, and expat mums-to-be face a whole host of added challenges, from differences in healthcare systems to language barriers and cultural cues. Patricia Bowden and Rhonda Turnbough, who have been there, done that, tell us the ten things they wish they'd known beforehand.

1) You don’t have to worry about insurance 

The hospital will not charge anyone for giving birth or for any emergency procedures that may occur during labour and delivery.

This means that choices are not limited by any insurance plan, you don’t have to worry about your baby being taken to an in-network NICU (if necessary), and there are no financial forms to fill out. Instead, these services are paid for with our taxes. This is also true for pre- and post-natal classes. Alternative birthing centers, however, are not covered.

2) But you do have to buy your own stuff

Each hospital requires you to bring your own things such as diapers, outfits for your newborn, your robe and etc. Some people have a hospital bag - I had a hospital suitcase!

3) Pre-natal classes are very sociable, but you have to put yourself out there

Butting in on other people's conversations is a huge no-no back in the US and will the most likely response is a nasty side-eye. Because of this, I kept my mouth shut during my pre-natal classes at the hospital, which left me feeling very left out since everyone appeared to be good friends but no one seemed to want to talk to me.

Eventually, I realized that they weren't actually old friends, but had just struck up a conversation at random. Two people would start talking, then another woman would join in and hey presto, she is in the conversation. This would continue until everyone was included in the conversation - but you have to make the first move.


Patricia Bowden gave birth in Genoa while still learning Italian. Photo: Private

Figuring this out took extra effort on my part since I was very early on in my Italian studies and couldn’t yet pick up on the specific social cues. Once I did though, I waited for the opportune moment (which took a while, because I had to understand what was being said before I jumped in) and began making friends. Mastering this skill changed my entire experience. So mums-to-be, don't feel like you're being ignored - just take the leap!

4) Women have comprehensive maternity leave. Men… not so much

Working mothers get five months (or more in some cases) off at full pay. If they work in an environment that could be harmful to the fetus, they can take their whole pregnancy off with full pay.

As Americans, we are used to considering maternity leave from the employer's point of view, so this seems like a lot, but think about how awesome it is for the mom and her new baby to have so much time together. If the mother doesn’t have a job but the father does, he can take a month off at full pay and more months off with partial pay.

When it comes to dads, the situation seems to vary. My friend’s husband got one month with full pay and five months at 30 percent pay, which he can take over the next five years; however, my husband got just two days. If you come from a country where generous paternity leave is the norm, such as one of the Nordics, this may be a less pleasant surprise.

5) Italians are very accommodating towards pregnant women

Once I began showing, no one let me stand on public transport - whether they were old or young. I receive the same reception now when I take public transport with my baby. I am always offered a seat, even if my little one is in his stroller. People also always offer to help me lift my stroller up or down, will hold things if I need it, or even help me open and close my stroller.


Lorenzo at Halloween. Photo: Private

People are also willing to help distract my baby when he is fussy. One restaurant owner carried our baby around while working to give us time to eat in peace.

Some places even have reserved spaces for pregnant shoppers in the parking lot of the mall and grocery store (pink parking!). It was always a thrill to be able to get priority parking, especially when I was huge. The only bad thing is that there are always more pregnant women than open spaces, so sometimes you and your giant belly are forced to park at the furthest away spot and walk, just like the rest of the population.

6) It pays to have children

Italy has a shrinking population. To combat this, Italy offers a subsidy for children to parents with an annual income of a certain amount to encourage people to procreate. Some companies also offer subsidies when an employee (male or female) has a child - a welcome bonus!


Rhonda is from Las Vegas and gave birth in Ferrara. Photo: Private

7) The one-person rule

Most hospitals in Italy only allow one person (of the mother’s choice) into the delivery room and in your hospital room. This is to limit the amount of germs the baby is exposed to during this delicate period, but you should be aware of it in advance to ensure you've chosen your birthing partner.

8) Your child will become the ultimate ice-breaker

This is really helpful if you moved to Italy as an adult and live in a city with few foreigers. When you move to a new place as an adult, usually everyone your age seems to have a full social group so no-one talks to you. But your little one will make you the most popular person in town. Even small children and rowdy teenagers will come up and play with your little one. 


Rhonda and her baby. Photo: Private

9) Italian food!

Probably the best part about giving birth in Italy is that it's home to the world’s favorite cuisine. I was lucky to be at a hospital that actually let me pre-select my lunch and dinner from a menu so I never had to worry about allergies or intolerances. However, hospitals all over the country will make sure you won’t receive anything you cannot eat. This foodie’s tummy was super satisfied with the quality of the food. My only complaint would be that I wish I had more!

10) Some hospitals may encourage you to scream!

It could be said that Italians have a more 'vocal' culture, and perhaps this is why some nurses during your labour will require you to scream bloody murder in order to open your cervix. Whether it works or not is debatable, but I guess everything is worth a try when your baby doesn’t want to come out. One thing this does NOT do is put the other expectant mothers at ease while they are waiting their turn!

Patricia Bowden is an avid traveler and a translator of academic medical articles for publication, government-issued documents, and various cultural pieces from Japanese and Italian into English. Although originally from New York, NY, she currently lives in Genoa, Italy, with her husband and 11-month-old son, Lorenzo, who is currently a child model. In her spare time, she enjoys experimenting with delicious concoctions in her kitchen. To learn more about Patricia, visit her on ProZ. If you would like to work with Lorenzo, please contact B Talent Scout Agency.

Rhonda Turnbough is an artist, originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. who currently lives in Ferrara, Italy with her husband and one-year-old daughter. Her favorite things about living in Italy are the socialized medicine, relative lack of gun violence, and the ridiculously vast selection of yogurt. You can learn more about her at www.rhondaturnbough.com.

If you would like to write a guest article for The Local, please get in touch at news.italy@thelocal.com

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