Helping expat parents in Belgium
The Brussels Childbirth Trust has been helping expat parents in Belgium for over 30 years. We investigate how the Belgian non-profit group can help expats in Belgium.
Having a baby gives rise to many questions even in a familiar environment, but for expats in Belgium, pregnancy can raise even more questions.
Expats might be in the dark, for example, as to where they can find pre and post-natal help, have questions regarding costs and health insurance, queries over maternity and paternity benefits or even Belgium's stance on pregnancy and birth procedures.
However, members and volunteers at the Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT) have been passing on information and tips to both new and established expat families for over 30 years.
Originally part of the National Childbirth Trust in Great Britain, but now independent, BCT is a non-profit group for parents of young children.
Its aim is to provide the necessary help and support to enable parents gain greater enjoyment and satisfaction during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood.
Membership offers a wide range of pre and post-natal services, information on child education in Belgium, practical help and above all — an opportunity to mix with families in a similar situation.
BCT hosts 'Pregnancy in Belgium' information evenings, which are designed to take the guess work out of pregnancy and birth practicalities.
This event is open to members and non-members alike and takes place at Imagine on a Wednesday evening once a month.
Numbers are limited so it's essential to book online. It is an informal talk suitable for both first-time parents and parents who have already had a child or children in another country.
The evening's agenda depends on the needs of the group, but generally includes information on choosing a gynaecologist or a hospital, costs and health insurance, pre-natal testing, what to expect when giving birth, post-natal support, birth registration, maternity benefits, childcare and the Belgian health system. It is run by one or two of our Prenatal teachers.
Besides the information evenings, pre-natal courses led by qualified pre-natal teachers allow small groups of expectant mums and their partners to enjoy support and friendship of others in the same situation while preparing for a baby.
There are two types of courses available: those for first-time parents and a shorter refresher course for those expecting a second child or subsequent children.
First-timer courses are held over a combination of weekday evenings and weekends lasting about five weeks and include breastfeeding and resuscitation classes. Weekly classes with the same content are also run on weekday evenings over two months.
Key topics include the process and stages of labour, relaxing and breathing and positions, pain-relief, hospital procedures, Caesarean section and baby care.
Refresher courses are run every three or four months according to demand. These courses include a debriefing on a previous birth, birth procedure in Belgium and how to integrate the new baby into the family.
Prior to beginning either course, attendants are asked about any possible complications and an agenda is set for the group.
"We take into account the different needs of the people who attend, including possibly raising children in an environment with several languages," Paula says.
These courses are also a chance to talk about non-medical issues: "The people who attend the classes may have differing needs and expectations, but they all have one focus. They are part of a small group which is safe; they feel confident and have the freedom to talk openly. We offer both emotional and social support".
Paula continues: "Physiotherapists offer excellent preparation for labour and birth which we aim to complement in our courses by also giving clients the opportunity to discuss all aspects of becoming parents".
BCT also caters for parents immediately after the birth of their baby by offering trained breastfeeding counsellors, bottle feeding supporters and post-natal supporters to give advice and encouragement.
These volunteers are experienced mothers who can be a friend to talk to and provide moral support in times of need. Many members seek support and then end up getting involved in the organisation as well.
An ex-member now living abroad recalls that by participating in one of the talks she was introduced to a network of people; many of whom became friends. She was also able to get information on all kinds of baby care equipment.
"I hired a TENS machine for pain relief for when I was having my daughter which was useful and caused a lot of interest at the hospital in Leuven as many of their staff had never seen one before," she says.
There are similar services in Belgium, but what sets BCT apart from others is that it is non-specific and covers a large range of services, dealing with everything to do with having a baby and catering for the changing needs of families.
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