When I speak to my family who are in the US the first topic they bring up is the impending birth of the new Royal Baby. I think the Americans have more baby fever than is currently in the UK. But thinking of Kate, and this being her first baby, delivered privately here in the UK I can’t help but think about how different the experience is here, private vs NHS from each other and even more different than the experience in the US.
You’re having a baby – how different could it be you might think. Having now experienced both, I can tell you firsthand it’s very different. In general the experience in the US is more interventionist. There are more frequent antenatal (called prenatal there ) appointments and at each there are more tests done. The US birth experience is more focused on the prenatal treatment and the development of the baby than the actual birth itself – leaving you with no support or care after the baby is born. I’ve found that the UK experience is almost the opposite. It is very hands off. Even with a private Consultant OB, there are less frequent antenatal appointments, less testing at each appointment. These appointments seem to be more milestone check-ins to get a general check-up that all is well for Mum and baby, the focus seeming to be more on Mum. Where there is no aftercare in the US, in the UK there is a tremendous amount of aftercare provided and available.
A community Midwife is assigned to you who comes to visit within a day or so of you leaving hospital, and again a few days later and more visits if necessary. She’s there to make sure Mum and baby are both recovering and doing ok, remove sutures etc if necessary and private health related aftercare in the home. Following the visit of the Midwife, is a Community Health Visitor, a nurse who has experience with babies. She comes and discusses the health of the baby and mum, breastfeeding, checks the babies weight etc. You can schedule more appointments for them to come by if you like. Our Health Visitor also provided information on free local Mum & Baby support groups and classes provided free or at low cost nearby. These included Baby Massage Classes and Lactation Support Groups amongst others.
As a third time Mum, unused to all of this post-birth attention, I found it actually made me feel rather uncomfortable. I had no way to refuse these visits – which to me felt rather invasive and unnecessary. I can see how being a first time Mum, these visits would be useful or helpful, or if unfamiliar with the healthcare system or country these could be great – but for me, it just felt awkward. I research my physicians and health providers very carefully before choosing them and seeing one so having people turn up with little to no notice, with unknown skills or experience, wanting to discuss my medical details and judge my parenting techniques makes me hugely uncomfortable. The Midwives and Health Visitor whom I met were very nice- my discomfort wasn’t with them specifically, it was with the general concept. On the plus side, it was nice not having to schlep to the Dr’s office a week after the C-section to get the sutures removed, having it done at home by the Midwife. But, that’s about all I found useful.
Besides the pre and postnatal care experiences in having a birth in the US vs UK – the actual delivery in the UK is different than the US. As previously noted, in the UK you can choose to go on the National Health System (NHS) where the birth is provided free of charge as part of your tax funded healthcare, or go privately where you are on a private wing of a hospital in which you pay for a more private and personalized experience. Kate Middleton is currently going private at the Lindo Wing, much like I did at the Kensington Wing of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
The NHS delivery in London hospitals seem to be somewhat of a communal experience. You give birth on a primarily midwife led wing, stay in a room shared by up to half a dozen other mums, and are discharged as quickly as medically possible, often within hours of the birth. From friends who’ve given birth on the NHS in London, it’s adequate, but basic, but difficult if you need peace and quiet or require extra assistance after the birth and there are no baby nurseries. You need to pay attention to your packing list and bring lots of stuff - including bringing your own diapers and cotton wool (or wipes) and from some stories I’ve heard – some Mums have even had to get their own painkillers.
Giving birth Privately in the UK is a bit closer to the American experience. There are private rooms for each Mum, some private wings have baby nurseries, and all provide more individualized care and support. These are more quiet and relaxing than their American counterpart. You’re left alone for the most part, not woken by announcements over the tannoy or constant blood pressure checks throughout the night. Food is generally better than the NHS or a US delivery and offers more choice. (the photo is of my lunch at the Kensington Wing of chicken cesar salad and fresh fruit salad) but private births cost about £10000 – £15000 on average. ($16000-$2400 USD) which is still cheaper than a birth in the US which can cost $20,000-$50,000 for a single birth, more for multiples. (You can read my review Kensington Wing of Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London, here.)
Giving birth in the US is like the UK private experience in many ways. You generally have a private room and receive individualized care and support following the birth. Food is ok but depends on the hospital and is the same food provided to all patients. However, like the more interventionist prenatal care, the postnatal care follows suit. From immediately after delivery until the time you’re released you are inundated with people and and tests and noise. The nurses check your blood pressure and temperature every couple hours even throughout the night. Dr’s and staff are paged over the tannoy and called for urgent medical requests, providing a loud background of noise. Drs, nurses, cleaning staff, food porters, Lactation Consultants, interns and guests provide a near constant stream of people in and out of the hospital room. I think this is what makes the baby nursery necessary – giving Mom even just 30 mins or a few hours of time to rest (even though they’ll be awoken to check the blood pressure again ). In the US following a c-section you are required to get up and walk sooner and further than in the UK you are also required to do lung exercises which wasn’t required in the UK. One large difference is all of the baby stuff provided for you in the hospital. Diapers, wipes, nasal aspirator, comb, lotions, baby powder, onesie vests and knitted hats and more are all provided for you. But, I guess you can consider it as something you pay for (either you or your insurance) as all of these things are put on your bill. The nurses each time we delivered in the US made sure we packed up all of these supplies and took them with us as we’d already been charged for them. As noted the cost of delivery in the US is quite high when compared to the UK but I guess with all of those people and things they throw at you they need to have them paid for.
All in all – if you’re having a normal delivery with no complications you’d probably have a very similar birth experience in any of the situations noted above. Where the major difference would come in would be for a high risk pregnancy or complicated birth. Seeing as how mine have all been high risk and complicated – I’ve found things I like with both the UK private experience and US experience and would if possible would take the best from both.
For me – I’d prefer the US prenatal (antenatal) experience as I felt I had a better handle on how the pregnancy was progressing and felt more assured about the health of my baby and myself. I’d choose the UK for the actual delivery (in my case c-section), and UK private for the in-hospital recovery which was definitely more restful and restorative than it’s US counterpart.
So now you know what Kate is in-store for and how it may be the same or differ from your birth experience.
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