The Czech Republic is repeatedly hailed as one of the safest, most technologically progressive places to give birth in Europe. To boot, Czech society also treats moms-to-be well: A pregnancy “passport” issued by your doctor entitles you to a seat on public transport, some grocery stores even have a “pregnant-only” check-out line, and depending on your residency and employment status, you may be eligible for lengthy maternity and parental leave and, and if you qualify, a postnatal stipend. That said, expecting mothers should prepare for the challenges inherent to experiencing pregnancy in a foreign country. To help you cope, we’ve put together a guide to your healthy pregnancy in Prague—complete with tips from real moms who’ve been there:
10. Ensure that you’re insured.
According to the Centre for the Integration of Foreigners, if you have permanent residency, are an EU citizen, or you have long-term residence for the purpose of employment and you are an employee of an employer based in the Czech Republic, the medical care provided to you during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum is covered by public health insurance (VZP). PVZP (foreigner’s basic medical insurance) carriers should notify providers of their pregnancy immediately as it’ll be necessary to upgrade coverage. Services like 3D ultrasound and, at the hospital, private rooms or epidurals may not be covered. Private ob-gyns may also charge a one-time fee.
For more information see the CIF’s leaflet here.
9. Don’t expect hand-holding from your ob-gyn.
Depending on whether you chose a state or private clinic, you may or may not be asked lots of questions or given endless advice during your initial check-up and at subsequent visits. (Go as soon as you suspect you’re pregnant, but note that the těhotenský průkaz, or pregnancy id, won’t be given until 8 weeks.) That’s why it’s a good idea to come armed with questions of your own. And get used to what’s often perceived as a robotic bedside manner. Says Sara R.*, an American mother of three: “I went in expecting the kind of hand- holding that Americans get from their doctors. My gynecologist was kind, checked what she needed to and told me what I needed to know for the next appointment. I received the care I required without the frills. Welcome to the socialized health system!”
8. Commit to educating yourself.
You’ll soon discover that self-educating can be crucial, especially if you’re uncertain about your doctor’s advice or if it conflicts with what you’ve always been told about prenatal care. Dagmar M., a Czech mother of two, told us: “I think prenatal care and advice depends on the ob-gyn. Some will enthusiastically recommend vitamins while others tell you that if you’re healthy and take good care of yourself by eating a balanced diet, you don’t need them.” Another expecting mom from the U.S. says that her Czech doctor prescribed a steady prenatal diet of leafy greens, fish, and wine in lieu of vitamins. “But because my instincts (and trusted American sources) told me I needed them, I forced the issue and he prescribed folic acid and magnesium supplements.”
7. Seek support? Take a class, join a group.
For pregnant foreigners in the Czech Republic, the greatest source of prenatal knowledge may not always be your doctor. Nina G., a Georgian mother of two I spoke with raved about Babies, Bumps & Tots in Prague a group that meets weekly in Prague for coffee and group activities. “It’s a lifesaver for moms-to-be to get to know other women who’ve experienced a pregnancy here,” she says. The Babies, Bumps & Tots calendar also includes prenatal yoga sessions. MaternityCare, a group of midwives specializing in pre-natal support, offers pregnancy swimming sessions and childbirth classes in English as do the midwives at Power of Birth. Most hospitals and clinics, including the OG Group Medical Centre, headed by popular Prague ob-gyn Elena Figurová, M.D., also organize classes for expecting international parents.
6. Don’t forget to do the fun stuff, too.
Enjoy the special pregnancy massage at Sabai or splurge on a BabyMel or Storksak diaper bag from Pietro Brunelli by Mamashop, Prague’s new ready-to-wear maternity boutique in the Old Town. And speaking of maternity apparel, new Canadian mom Andi F. suggests entirely forgoing shops that specialize in maternity clothes: “C&A in Chodov has a selection of important basics (maternity black dress, trousers, jeans, bras etc.) while Next, Orsay and Camieau currently stock lots of flowy tops and tunics.” As a fun alternative to the typical IKEA baby decor, check out Ecomamma.
5. Shop around for a delivery ward ASAP!
In the Czech Republic, it’s customary to see an ob-gyn until the week 36, at which point you’ll transfer to the hospital where you’ll give birth for regular check-ups. In order to secure a spot at the hospital of your choice, you must register during week 12. Aaron P., an American dad in Brno, suggests commencing the search early on: “Shop around for a delivery ward, and try to get a feel for how you’ll be treated—as a person or as a responsibility to get out of the way—and what delivery procedures are mandatory there.” In Prague, UPMD Podolí and U Apolináře vie for favorite expat hospitals with Krč and Motol coming in close second. Outside of Prague, many on our message boards suggest Neratovice. Farther afoot in Krkonoše, Vrchlabí is known for accommodating alternative birthing requests.
4. If you don’t speak Czech, a doula can help.
Sasha T., a new mom from the U.S. says: “If you don’t speak Czech, make a birth plan and find a doula. I did both and had a positive experience.” Other parents say that having a doula, or a non-medical caregiver who acts as an advocate for expecting mothers throughout pregnancy and the first months postpartum, gave them a better sense of continuity during the transition to the hospital. More hospitals now allow you to deliver with a doula present; some even staff English-speaking midwives (medical professionals trained to support low-risk pregnancies) or you may hire your own.
3. Pack for the hospital wisely.
The hospital where you’ll deliver should give you in advance a list of things to pack and bring to the hospital when you go into labor. While items like towels, sanitary pads and disposable underwear are typically provided in U.S. hospitals, these things aren’t commonly handed out in Czech ones. Sara R. recommends that you include one surprising item in your hospital bag: “The nurses will give you all kinds of info you will not understand due to the language barrier. It helps to have a book about this stuff in your native language packed and ready to go.”
2. Brace yourself for a change of pace at the hospital.
Expat mom of three Karen S. had this to say about her prenatal care: “Pregnancy here isn’t treated a lot differently than elsewhere. I think the main differences can be seen the instant you check into the maternity unit in labor.” Dagmar M. agrees. “When the hospital takes over from your regular ob-gyn, the level of service drops, regardless of the hospital. At my ob-gyn I had appointments and no waiting time. At the hospital, where you go maybe every week for the last month of the pregnancy, you wait forever and waiting when you are 9 months pregnant is not so great. So that may come as a bit of a shock.”
1. Flexibility can be your saving grace.
Nearly all the moms we talked to emphasized the importance of the baby and mother coming out of labor healthy, rather than trying to achieve a “romanticized birth experience,” as Sara R. calls it. Other moms noted that a lot depends on you and your ability to deal with cultural difference and stress. Peg H., an American mom of two says: “Definitely talk to your doctor, make clear your wishes in writing but don’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t go according to plan. The important thing is to get the baby out safely. Within a few years, you’ll have forgotten all but the highlights.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.