a transatlantic mommy / mummy blog – my kids say "tomato" & "to-mah-to"

Giving birth in the UK vs the US – more different than you might think

having a baby in the UK vs US 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.

the midwife or health visitor will weigh your baby at home

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.

 

hospital food Kensington Wing private delivery UK

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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4 years ago 1 Comment Short URL

Review of The Kensington Wing, Private Maternity Ward at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

So as you already know I’d decided to have the baby privately. To Americans reading this – this may seem an odd statement, so do please refer to my past post about this. In deciding to have the baby privately in London I had pretty much narrowed down my choices between the Portland Hospital and the Kensington Wing at Chelsea and Westminster. My Consultant would deliver at either.

I read as much info and talked to people who had been at both and for me the Kensington Wing won out due to it’s proximity and that they had a NICU and adult trauma center. I could be moved from private to NHS if an emergency merited. I had friends who’d been in the Kensington Wing, all of whom had a positive experience. Most private maternity wards and hospitals allow you to visit if you’re interested in seeing them before booking – you’ll generally need to call ahead though to book a tour.

When I first decided to go private (vs NHS) I was told to book my private place ASAP. For the Kensington Wing, they only have 16 rooms and can be booked up if you wait too long. They take the booking via your Consultant’s office. Mine delivered at both The Portland and Chelsea Westminster, Kensington Wing. I decided on the Kensington Wing as Chelsea Westminster is close to my home, has emergency care for both babies and mums. Further, I had friends who’d had positive experiences there.

When looking for more info and reviews, while I did find a few on Mumsnet.com I didn’t find as many as I’d like – as an info-mongering mum-to-be, so I decided to help others by writing about my personal experience there.

hallwayWhile we did have a c-section scheduled I ended up going in early for an emergency c-section. If you’d like the delivery details I’ve written of those previously. For this post we’ll continue on to the experience of the Kensington Wing. While vaginal deliveries do occur in the birthing rooms within the Kensington Wing (I’ve heard the birthing pool is lovely!) c-sections are performed outside of the wing in the surgery theater also used by non-private deliveries. You are wheeled on the gurney out of the wing and down the hall and back again. Not a huge deal as you’re generally more focused on baby in/out than who you might meet in the hallway. Further, its not a hall full of people but still worth noting.

When it comes to the rooms in the Kensington Ward itself, and the patient care – I found these to be very good.  Each of the rooms has windows, either facing outside, or the internal atrium and lavender walls. The rooms that face the internal atrium have baths with showers, seem a bit more spacious but require a sleeping cot to be brought in for husbands. The external facing rooms, while narrower – have built in murphy beds for hubs and only a shower not a bath.

I did have a Diva moment and ended up trying out both room types. As long as they aren’t full they are ok with asking for a room change (within reason of course.)

chelsea

When I toured the ward before my stay I had liked the exterior facing rooms because of the sunlight. So, when I arrived on the ward I requested one of these rooms. Living nearby, city streetnoise doesn’t bother me and the windows are fairly thick so while there was some noise I didn’t hear it as I’m used to filtering it out. It was handy having the murphy bed (pull-down bed) for hubs and just having a c-section, the walk-in shower was much easier to navigate. It was a bit cramped for space with my hospital bed, baby bed one side and hubs bed on the other but we managed.

kensington_wing

Layout of the Kensington Wing

Each room also had a chair, a small desk, flat-screen tv and fridge. They’ve replaced the usual tv remote with these mini remotes. I found this annoying as mine would stop working all the time, I’d ring the nurse and they seemed to be aware of the issue already as they’d often bring a larger remote to change or reset the tv then `i’d use my small one again until it would malfunction again. While they do provide meals, each room also has a mini-fridge for snacks or drinks. Mine in my first room wasn’t working. They kindly offered to keep my drinks and yogurt in the staff fridge, and that worked for about a day. I got tired of having to ring for someone to come, then me to ask them to go get a yogurt at 4am. It seemed like a really annoying thing for me to do to them, as if they didn’t have more pressing things to do – so I asked to move rooms, as most at that time were empty.

I decided to try out one of the internal rooms which faces the atrium. They wheeled in my bed while hubs and my Mum trailed with my stuff (and baby of course!) The room was larger, but being in there for just a few minutes I could already hear shouts and sounds echoing through the atrium. While perhaps the volume wasn’t as loud as street noise, for me – it wasn’t one I felt I could easily tune out, so quickly asked to be moved to another external facing room, this one with a working fridge. It was a total Diva moment – my entourage and I moving from room to room to room. Finally I settled in the room next to my original which was a bit disconcerting at first as it was the mirror opposite of my previous room.

In general the food was very good, someone would bring a menu in the morning so you could choose lunch and dinner etc. Having only stayed at hospitals in the US not UK I don’t have much to compare to here but I’d say the food was pretty good.

The midwives and other people there to care for patients in the ward were very kind and proficient. They were available when required but give you privacy and space to recuperate the rest of the time. That was the biggest difference between delivery in the US and UK. In the US it’s almost impossible to sleep in the hospital after delivery. While in the US you in general almost always automatically have a private room – which is not standard in the UK – in the US you are monitored and managed and interfered with on a regular basis.

I didn’t realize there would be this difference until after my first night stay. In the US there are constant noises – calls over the hallway speakers for Drs etc, beeps from machines, patient noises etc. The Kensington Wing was almost silent – only the very occasional faint baby cry.  In the US nurses come to check your blood pressure, blood oxygen etc every couple hours and if you’re sleeping, wake you up to do it. In the Kensington Wing, they tend to leave you alone at night unless you ask for assistance. No waking you up to monitor you, so you actually get to sleep in the hospital! While like the US they did try and get me up and moving soon after the c-section, I didn’t have to do the hallway laps, and breathing machine exercises that were required in the US following a c-section.

Assistance was on hand whenever I needed help for myself or baby. While they don’t have a nursery like in the US, they were available to take the baby for a bit if required, but as my husband was there, and it was so restful (unlike the US) there was no need to send the baby to the nursery or away to catch up on some sleep.

All in all – my experience was good. While the facilities are on-par or average for what’s expected in the US, the quality of care and service was tops for either US or UK. I’d highly recommend the Kensington Wing to other expectant Mums.

Here’s another review of The Kensington Wing

An American Girl in Chelsea – her review of the Kensington Wing and comparison to the Portland Hospital

and if you need more info or contact details of the Kensington Wing they are available on their website.

Feel free to share your experience or questions on the comments below.

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5 years ago 1 Comment Short URL
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