Royalty, A-list celebrities, and foreign leaders have all chosen Switzerland to give birth, paying hefty fees to access the country’s gold-standard maternity services. But what is it really like to have a baby here?
Switzerland’s international reputation for privacy, luxury and top-tier healthcare are the primary reasons why the rich, famous and sometimes notorious travel here to give birth. But as this writer found out, you don’t need to be a member of the global elite to experience it for yourself.
Giving birth to our first child at a clinic in Geneva was eye-opening to say the least. All in all, it was a level of care and attention that, in an ideal world, expectant mothers the world over would have access to.
Every mother’s dream?
The basic health insurance mandate does go a long way in giving all women (expats like myself, included) access to high-quality maternity care. While not exactly cheap, even the most basic coverage does give mothers-to-be plenty of options, from choosing your own obstetrician to where and how they give birth.
“I have the impression that women are very well looked after here,” says Miroslava Athanasi, a midwife and hypnobirthing teacher who has practiced in the UK and Switzerland. “The Swiss maternity system is a private system and in a private practice the doctor/midwife has more time and is less constrained by institutional policies and politics.”
From 12 weeks on in a pregnancy, all basic insurance plans scrap deductibles and begin covering 100% of prenatal care, scans, the delivery itself, hospital stays, breastfeeding support and at least ten midwife visits to your home in the weeks following the birth of your child. There are even sizable contributions to prenatal classes and pelvic floor physical therapy. With supplementary insurance, these services are fully covered, including postpartum counseling visits.
Most pregnant women have their own vision of what the experience of giving birth will look like, and thankfully there is enough choice in Switzerland to satisfy most demands. And because it’s childbirth where a birth ‘plan’ is more like a wish list, access to high quality intervention is always close by. Interested in a water birth, fewer medical interventions and a midwife-led team? Try a birthing house. Rather not leave the comfort of your home? Home births are covered.
Or if you prefer a hospital birth with all the latest advances in medical technology and pain relief options, then costs are 100% covered for mother and baby.
Taking it a step further, and if you can stomach paying more per month for a supplementary private or semi-private insurance, the option of having your own OB deliver your baby in one of the many luxurious private clinics, is also an option.
Giving birth in a private clinic
“The main difference (from a hospital) is that we offer a personalized service, from preparation for childbirth to postpartum follow-up,” says Vincent Michellod, director of one of the most luxurious clinics in Geneva, the Clinique de Générale-Beaulieu.
“We are more flexible and adapt to the needs of our patients. In a structure such as ours, the future parents will always keep the same interlocutors. An important place is given to the father, who can spend the first night at the clinic and fully participate in the experience of fatherhood,” Michellod says.
After giving birth, mothers and babies stay in hospitals or clinics for two to six days, on average, before returning home. While there, mothers get one-on-one time with highly trained midwives and lactation consultations. Many clinics offer spa treatments such as massages and gourmet meals that rival Michelin-starred restaurants.
“The Swiss approach to obstetrics is probably similar to our way of doing medicine,” Michellod says. “We do it with the highest level of quality and professionalism, respecting the patient’s choices and sensitivity. In comparison with our neighbors, we have time to dedicate to our patients, which clearly affects the patient experience. We are aware of being privileged for this.”
Room for improvement
But is there a downside to so much attention?
“This patient involvement also translates into a slight preference of Caesarean sections over natural birth-giving,” says Michellod. The Swiss rate of Caesarean sections is 32%.
“While this is still far from the recommended 10 to 16% by the WHO, it is a much lower rate than at most private clinics in Geneva,” says midwife Athanasi, adding “I have been trying to find out the statistics around Caesarean rates in the private clinics, but was told that it varies from one gynecologist to the next, and that they can be as high as 50%.”
The Swiss preference for organization and planning may have some influence on even the most unpredictable occurrence in life: the arrival of a baby. Many Swiss obstetricians also tend to favor medically kick-starting labor through induction.
“To my surprise I often hear mums telling me that they have to be induced before their due date as the doctor is worried that the baby is going to grow too big and she will not be able to have a vaginal delivery. We know that scans can over- or underestimate the size of a baby by 10%, which is a big range and therefore we do not give much importance to the estimated birth weight. An induction is a huge intervention and should not be taken lightly,” Athanasi says.
That said, as my doctor told me anecdotally around week 35 of my own pregnancy, many of her patients ask for scheduled c-sections or inductions to limit the element of surprise for childcare or work reasons.
A closer look at some of the Swiss birth statistics tell a more nuanced story. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the neonatal mortality rate in Switzerland is 2.81 per 1000 live births, slightly higher than in other high-income neighboring countries like France (2.56) and Germany (2.25), but lower than the United States’. Meanwhile, another study suggests that children born to non-Swiss mothers from outside of Europe, as well as women from low-income families, sadly experience higher infant mortality rates for a number of contributing reasons, such as the language barrier.
The hands-on approach to post-natal care
What happens once mother and baby return home may the most important part of Swiss maternal care – the post-natal evaluation. Every baby born in Switzerland – regardless of visa status – is assigned a local midwife who will check in on mother and baby at home for at least ten visits. During those visits, the baby is weighed and evaluated for health issues. The mother is also checked out for postnatal health problems and postpartum depression.
“When you’re a new mother, it’s daunting to even leave the house with your newborn. Having someone who felt more like a friend or an aunt come by to check on me regularly made all of the difference in the world,” says Paige Baschuk, UltraSwiss editor.
“I got confirmation that the baby was healthy, my surgical wounds were healing and basically, that it was normal to feel this tired while caring for a newborn. I had a sounding board available to me night or day,” Baschuk says.
While not perfect, nor inexpensive, the choices available to expectant mothers and the emphasis on personalized care leaves most Swiss parents with a strong sense of support from first scan through to the postpartum stage. And this proud mom can attest to that.