Having a Baby in Germany: Giving Birth

by Jane Park, German Way Expat Blog writer

Pregnant in Germany: Part 2 – Giving Birth

Continued from Part 1

You are now in the neighborhood of 40 weeks of your pregnancy; you feel like you are about to burst, and it’s all a waiting game. At this point in your German pregnancy, you have to go to the doctor every other day and get your contractions and baby’s heart rate and condition monitored through CTGs (fetal heart monitoring) and ultrasounds.

delivery CTG scan

Erin in the delivery room hooked up to the CTG scan device.
PHOTO provided by Erin Porter.

“Honey, I think it’s time.”
Perhaps you’ll know that the baby is on its way by being woken in the middle of the night by not so normal discomfort and that discomfort seems to increase in somewhat regular increments. If you think you are in labor, you just need to go to the local hospital of your choice armed with your Mutterpass and with your packed bag.

When you get there, hospital staff will assess whether or not you’re really in labor or going through false labor. If it is the latter, you will be sent back home and instructed to come back when it is really time for baby to appear. If it is determined that you are indeed in labor, you will be checked into your laboring room. Most hospitals don’t give a hospital gown as you would expect in the States so prepare to labor in your own clothes and bring whatever is comfy and not so precious. Depending on how dilated or often undilated you are, you will probably be told to just go for a walk on the hospital grounds. At some point, you probably won’t really feel like doing this anymore, and might be moaning something like, “make it stop.” When you make your way back to your hospital room, the midwife will wrap those CTG scanners back on you.

delivery room

Another German Kreißsaal (delivery room).
PHOTO provided by the author.

And yes, I said midwife (Hebamme). In Germany, there is no midwife-doctor divide, and your birth will be midwife-led. A doctor is also present but plays a background role and steps up only when medically necessary such as for an emergency C-section. Typically, the midwife will break out the Globuli (homeopathic globules) and acupuncture needles if she thinks it will help and you want to go au naturel all the way or else she’ll call the anesthesiologist if you think western modern medicine is what you need to make it to the finish line. She might even suggest you go with the drugs if she believes this will progress dilation faster. There are no nurses in the Kreißsaal. They are waiting to help care for you and your baby in the recovery ward.
The Hebammecocktail
While we are on the topic of the natural way, which you probably know is highly encouraged in Germany, using a non-medical alternative to induce birth rather than immediately using a drug such as Pitocin is common. If you are trying to avoid interventions, you can ask for the Hebammecocktail, the midwife’s cocktail for inducing birth. There are various recipes, but here is one provided by Stefanie Fark, midwife at the Ostalbklinikum in Aalen, Germany.

Hebamme Cocktail

  • 2-3 tablespoon castor oil
  • 1 tablespoon Schnapps
  • Fill the glass with a juice like pineapple, multivitamin, peach or similar (no “clear” juices like apple)
  • Drink and enjoy

Some people also use sparkling wine instead of schnapps and the measurements vary from recipe to recipe. There’s also a variation that includes one tablespoon of almond butter as well.

The laxative effect usually starts about four to six hours later which should start contractions. According to Stefanie, the cocktail usually works better with women expecting their second (or subsequent) child. She has also observed that eating sunny-side-up or scrambled eggs fried in castor oil works as an effective induction.

another delivery room

Some delivery rooms in Germany have a Badewanne (bathtub) for a water birth. PHOTO provided by the author

If you were contemplating a water birth, you might be in luck. Many German hospitals have bathtubs in their delivery rooms. Whether or not you get one usually just depends on whether or not one is free or not at the time of your arrival.

It’s a boy/girl!
Your partner is of course welcome to stay during this entire process and even gets to cut the umbilical cord if so desired. Once measurements are taken and Apgar scores recorded, the midwife will give your freshly born baby back to you to hold to your chest and start breastfeeding.

After some time to recover and catch your breath again in exhausted euphoria, you will be wheelchaired to the recovery ward. Most hospitals do not have a nursery anymore and your baby will be in the same room as you. Unless you have private insurance or opt to pay extra, you’ll probably have to share a bedroom with another patient. There are usually family rooms available, which are rooms with double beds for fathers to also stay. It is a great option to facilitate those first days of being a family.

If this is your first time in a German hospital, don’t be surprised when your one hot meal is lunch. As in many German households, bread will be served for breakfast and for dinner.

Visitors in the shape and form of fathers, siblings, grandparents, other relatives and friends are welcome during the day. You might have a physical therapist talk to you about the pelvic floor exercises you can already start doing. Some hospitals have a class that you can drop into. Other hospitals will also have a photographer who comes by and takes standard photos of the baby and creates photo albums, announcements and other gifts for you to purchase.

Nurses will walk in and check in on you on a regular basis to take your blood pressure, inform you of when you or the baby will be seeing a doctor, and to serve lunch. You will also get support in breastfeeding; the nurses are trained to help and the hospital will provide you with a pump if you need. You can even get a prescription to borrow and bring one home with you for a couple of days if needed. Formula is also available for those who opt for it or if deemed necessary.
Kreißsaal Wortschatz (Delivery Room Vocabulary)

Badewanne, die bathtub
CTG cardiotocography, electronic fetal monitor (EFM)
Curetage/Kürettage, die (Ausschabung der Gebärmutter) dilation and curettage (D&C)
Dammschnitt, der episiotomy
Mutterkuchen, Nachgeburt, Plazenta placenta
Muttermund, der cervix
Nabelschnur, die umbilical cord
Nachwehen (pl.) postpartum contractions, afterpains
PDA (die Periduralanästhesie) epidural
pressen, drücken to push
Saugglocke, die vacuum extractor
schwere Blutung hemorrhage

For a more comprehensive list of German pregnancy and birthing vocabulary, see Erin’s Prenatal Courses blog post with a pregnancy vocabulary list and her tumblr page with pregnancy vocabulary.

In Germany, the Wochenbett (postpartum period) is defined as six weeks. (In fact, the first year of baby’s life is a respected, protected period in a family’s life. See The First Twelve Months.) You are not really expected to do much within this time except focus on recovery and caring for your baby. Luckily, paternal and maternal leave policies such as Elternzeit, Eltern- and Kindergeld make this manageable. A midwife, paid by your standard insurance plan, stops by and helps you through the stages of recovery and caring for your baby. Too inhibited to deal with a squirmy baby in a bathtub? Clueless as to what to do about that umbilical cord stub? Have sore nipples and new issues in your nether parts that need some attention? Your midwife probably has an answer or remedy for that. She will pull out some Globuli for a diaper rash, almond oil for baby’s skin, and instruct you on what to do if the baby has a fever. She’ll wrap your breasts in quark, recommend savoy cabbage leaves to soothe them once your milk has come in and hand you a packet of bath salts.

“Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur falsche Kleidung”
Translated: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothing.” While Germans love the sun, they are not afraid of bad weather. They apply this philosophy to babies. If you’ve taken a look in any German baby books, most of them will instruct you that in order to get enough essential fresh air, the baby should be outside for a minimum of 30 minutes morning and afternoon. Try to adhere to this rule, and you’ll be out and about a lot with your baby. It’s not a bad thing since fresh air and exercise are indeed scientifically proven to help the production of endorphins. Both you and the baby will also get better quality sleep. Just make sure to not overdo it during those first six weeks!

Classes for the New Mom
It’s important to try to connect with others during baby’s first year. Social contact will help stave off baby blues or postpartum depression. Not sure how to start? Be sure to pick up some literature at your local hospital before you check out. Also check in with the local church services. These are not religious in content. They just organize classes similar to ones you might find at the hospital: baby massage, PEKiP, play or “Krabbel” group, or postpartum yoga. In addition, your insurance will pick up the tab for you to attend ten postpartum exercise classes called Rückbildungsgymnastik so that you can strengthen your pelvic floor. Do it. Your future self will thank you!

The GW Store: For Mom and Baby – From our store and Amazon.de – with recommendations by Jane

Back | Having a Baby in Germany: Prenatal Care (Part 1)

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