9 Ways Pregnancy and Birth is Different Around the World

by Megan Mangiaracino

9 Ways Pregnancy and Birth is Different Around the World

America is home. And it’s like a home. Sometimes you go to a friend’s house that’s been recently renovated and come home to realize your bathroom is looking a little outdated. And other times after visiting the abode of others, you find a new appreciation for where you hang your hat. There’s no question that we live in a wonderful country. And still, there are some rooms that deserve a remodel.

It is hard to imagine that what we consider “normal” in the USA can be so vastly different across the globe. While pregnancy and birth is the same biologically, how our cultures handle the experience varies quite a lot.

In an exploration of how pregnancy and birth is experienced in other parts of the world compared to the good ol’ USA, I found the following facts most interesting:

  • Pregnant women in Japan still *gasp* eat sushi.

Here in the States we are advised against raw fish and shellfish, with the concern of parasites and/or high levels of mercury. In Japan, raw fish is still a regular part of pregnant mothers’ diets, and is in fact encouraged by their doctors to achieve well-balanced nutrition.

If you love sushi, you might read up on the actual risks associated. Most sushi consumed in the U.S. has been flash frozen, which kills parasites in the same way that cooking would.

  • You’ll gasp when you see the free gift sent to every expecting family in Finland.

In order to ensure all babies have a healthy start, the Finland government instituted a maternity package for all growing families in 1938. The 2019 package is chock-full of adorable outfits and helpful baby care items. Bravo, Finland!

Finland’s maternity package 2019. Image by Kela.

  • Germany has shockingly strict baby-naming laws.

Germans must stick to a list of baby names that have been pre-approved by the government. If they deviate from this list, they have to make a strong case for why they should be granted an exception. Names often denied are those of objects or surnames are and you must be able to tell the baby’s gender by their first name. I guess Blue Ivy and Apple would be non-starters…

  • Brazil, please re-think your gifting traditions.

Here in the USA you can’t go three months without being invited to yet another shower. We love buying for moms to be! In Brazil, when family and friends come to visit baby in the hospital, it is customary for the mother to give them a basket of gifts. C’mon…really!? Relieved to be an American on this front.

  • Pasta, wine, and free hospital births for all!

In Italy, giving birth in a hospital is always 100% free for the growing family. Further, if you or your baby requires special procedures or attention (like time in the NICU), it is fully covered. The price? The one person rule. Only one person is allowed in the hospital with you during labor/delivery, in order to limit germ exposure to the newborn. #simplysmart

  • Postpartum care is amazing in the Netherlands

Pregnant women in the Netherlands see midwives, not doctors, for their entire pregnancy and birth (unless there’s a problem then a doctor will intervene). They typically leave the hospital just a few hours after giving birth. However, they are not given a pamphlet on “how to care for your newborn” and sent off into the wild unknown of motherhood alone. They are sent home with a special maternity nurse – a kraamzorg – who comes to their home for up to 8 hours a day, for the first 8 days. Can you imagine?

This nurse will monitor mother and baby, weighing the newborn and checking in on the mother’s postpartum progress. But she’ll also do light chores, make meals, keep unwelcome visitors at bay and ensures mother is bathed and rested. Take note, America!

  • Bloom where your placenta is planted.

In Bali, placenta is referred to as “ari-ari” (meaning younger sibling). After birth, the placenta is cleaned and placed in a coconut. It is wrapped and buried near the house, on the right side for a boy, and left side for a girl. It is believed to bring good luck.

  • Bulgaria is #winning in the maternity leave category.

Bulgaria’s maternity leave policy is one of, if not the most, generous in the world. 410 days of leave at 90% of the mother’s salary. 45 of the 410 days must be taken before momma’s due date. You’re also eligible for a second year at a minimum salary which can be taken by mother, father or even a grandparent.

Maternity leave packages can be designed in many different ways, so it can be hard to compare country to country. Be scrutinizing of your sources, as some reporting on this topic can be misleading. The UK offers one year of paid maternity leave, but when you do the math, it is actually only about 12 paid weeks divided up over 52 weeks.

Aside from unfortunate, it is embarrassing that the U.S. is one of only four countries in the world (and the only developed country) that offers NO government-protected paid family leave. We are in the company of countries such as: Liberia, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Yikes…

You might be thinking, “but don’t we have FMLA?” FMLA does not guarantee you pay. If you need to know more, we break down FMLA here.
Bottom line: America, we MUST do better.

  • Across the world, many mothers and babies don’t have access to basic healthcare.

Regardless of the important changes I’d advocate for here in America, I am in large part thankful for our healthcare system. According to the World Health Organization, 2 million mothers watch their babies die on their first day of life due to preventable illnesses. These mothers are birthing in undeveloped countries in unsanitary conditions with no access to a medical professional. They don’t even have a clean knife to cut the umbilical cord. This is horrific and unimaginable.

Organizations like Medshare are working to combat this through providing simple birth kits (pictured below) that help women birth their babies safely outside of a hospital. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.

Clean birth kit by Medshare

Clearly, many experiences in pregnancy and birth are culturally-specific and others, simply universal. We all want the best for our babies. And although we are willing to sacrifice whatever necessary, we want the best for our partners and ourselves, as well.

Here at Baby Boldly, we are dedicated to improving the lives of growing families in America. We love our home, yes, but we’re due for some renovations. Let’s get to work!

Bold Momma on the Blog Today

Megan is co-founder of Baby Boldly and a full-time nonprofit fundraiser in Florida. She has been married to Mike for 3 years and (if you don’t count her furbaby, Max) she became a mom to Bennett in 2017. Megan believes strongly in supporting women (especially working mothers), the power of optimism and generosity, and the sacred tradition of Showtunes Friday in her car.

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