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Ten things you need to know about giving birth in Italy

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 each had their children in Italy, tell us the ten things they wish they'd known beforehand.

Ten things you need to know about giving birth in Italy
Giving birth in a foreign country can be especially daunting. File photo: Pexels

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

This article was first published in 2016

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Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Over-the-counter painkillers can be surprisingly expensive in Italy, and some brands of medicine that visitors use back home aren't available in Italian pharmacies. So what are the rules on bringing medicines in from outside the country?

Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Question: I’m moving to Italy for a few months and planning on bringing some painkillers with me, as I’ve heard they cost a lot more over there. Does Italy have rules on how much I can bring?

Basic pharmaceuticals can cost considerably more in Italy than in countries like the US or the UK.

For example, a box of 20 paracetamol will set you back around five euros on average in Italy, while a pack of 16 pills of the same painkiller in the UK costs 49 pence, or 57 centesimi. In Australia, a box of 20 paracetamol caplets will set you back around $3.49 (€2.30) and in the US there are much bigger savings to be made on larger-size packs, which are not available in Italy.

It’s not just headache pills: cold and flu tablets, lozenges and antihistamines are all often significantly more expensive in Italy than in many other countries.

With these kind of price differences, it’s understandable that visitors would want to save money by bringing their own medication over from abroad.

So what are the rules on bringing pharmaceuticals into Italy – and why are they so pricey in the first place?

Why are pharmaceuticals so expensive in Italy?

In essence, Italy has a powerful pharmacists lobby that raises strong objections at the slightest sign of market liberalisation.

Italy has strict rules in place governing the number of pharmacies that can operate in a given area based on the number of people living there, as well as around transfer of ownership, with many pharmacies simply being passed down to the next generation. While the system may not exactly be a monopoly, in the past it’s certainly seemed not far off one.

The passage of the Bersani law in 2007 relaxed the rules slightly, allowing basic over-the-counter drugs like painkillers to be sold outside of pharmacies for the first time; and a 2012 decree increased the number of drugs that could be sold in those venues without a prescription.

But that doesn’t mean you can just waltz into a supermarket, swipe a couple of packets of ibuprofen off the shelves next to the washing up liquid and the toothpaste and walk out with them for less than the price of a cappuccino, like in the UK.

Parafarmacie or ‘parapharmacies’, drug stores that were introduced in the wake of the Bersani law, are allowed to sell a limited range of over-the-counter drugs along with health and beauty products – but still require a pharmacist to administer the transaction.

Basic pharmaceuticals are often considerably more expensive in Italy than in other countries.

Basic pharmaceuticals are often considerably more expensive in Italy than in other countries. Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP

The same rule applies in supermarkets, where medicines must have their own dedicated counter that is manned at all times by at least one qualified pharmacist.

This means it’s not unheard of to end up spending 50 centesimi per pill for a basic headache drug like paracetamol, and sometimes even more. According to a 2016 survey, buying drugs at the supermarket as opposed to other venues offered savings of around 10 percent – not exactly life-changing.

READ ALSO: How to get a coronavirus test in Italy

The rules on bringing medicines into Italy from abroad

For controlled substances – that includes drugs like Adderall and Valium, which are considered narcotics in the EU – Italy’s rules are fairly strict.

You’ll need a prescription along with an official certificate stating the country and place of issue, the issuing authority, the prescribing physician and patient, and the dosage.

With these types of drugs, you’re also only allowed a 30 day supply – so if you’re in the country for longer than this, you’ll want to bring extra prescriptions from your doctor that will allow you to top up your medication in Italy for the length of your stay.

As for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and non-narcotic prescription medicines, Italy doesn’t appear to have any clear published rules on importation for personal use. 

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Other EU countries such as Sweden and Finland allow travellers coming from outside the Schengen area to bring a three-month supply of these kind of pharmaceuticals, so it’s safe to assume that similar limits will apply in Italy.

The Local has sought confirmation from the Italian authorities as to the legal limit of over-the-counter medication that can be brought over from abroad.

If you do find yourself needing to buy basic painkillers and other drugs at an Italian pharmacy or parafarmacia, remember to ask for the generico (generic) version. 

You’ll usually be automatically handed a branded version as it increases the pharmacy’s mark up, so asking for the generic version could save you a good few euros.