Giving birth in the UK
If you're preparing to give birth in the UK, here's a guide on what to expect regarding prenatal care, delivery and aftercare in the UK.
The NHS is the standard bearer for women having babies in the UK, although home birth is also possible, as are private clinics. International expat health insurer Bupa Global outlines the care offered at the three stages of giving birth in the UK — prenatal, delivery and aftercare.
Maternity and childbirth care in the UK
Foreign nationals living and working in Great Britain are permitted free healthcare on the National Health Service (NHS). Those not working and paying taxes are not eligible for free care, but will still be able to have their baby in an NHS hospital, where the vast majority of births take place. Once pregnancy is confirmed, you will have two scans at hospital (at the 12-week and 20-week stages) and are very likely to go to the maternity ward of the same hospital to give birth. Alternate options to NHS hospitals are available, including home births or giving birth in a private hospital, an expensive option. You can explore private healthcare options from a number of different private health insurance providers in preparation.
The first obvious move to make when you think you are pregnant is to get it confirmed. Use a home pregnancy kit to confirm the pregnancy. The kits are available from all chemists and most supermarkets. If the test shows positive, make an appointment to see your doctor who will confirm the pregnancy. You can use the NHS website to find maternity services near you or visit Birth Choices UK for further help. You will then make an appointment for the 12-week scan and ultrasound, which will be performed at hospital by a midwife. Another ultrasound will be carried out at the 20-week stage to assess the progress of the pregnancy. Tests are also undertaken to check for Down’s Syndrome. In total, you may have up to 10 appointments during the nine months of pregnancy – there is an excellent week-to-week planner available online.
Various classes, most often organised by the National Child Birth Trust, are held in local communities to help expectant parents prepare for what lies ahead. They may include learning how to handle a newborn baby or preparing for the birth itself.
Delivery and the birth
When signs of labour begin, you should head to hospital, or advise the midwife if you have decided to have a home birth. Upon arrival at the maternity ward, check in with the admissions desk and you will then be set up in a delivery room and cared for by the medical staff. Your partner, or birthing partner, is permitted to be alongside you during the birth.
Some mothers may be allowed to leave as early as six hours after the birth, although it is more common to spend a night or two in the maternity ward. Once your midwife or doctor is happy that both you and your newborn baby are well enough to go home, you will be discharged.
If you have chosen to give birth in hospital, you and your baby will remain in the maternity ward until the medical staff gives the all clear to return home. That could be as early as six hours after the birth if there are no complications or problems. It may be that a newborn child is kept in longer than the mother, particularly where premature births are concerned.
Following the release of both mother and baby, a midwife will pay almost daily visits at home for the first 10 days to check on the two of you. The midwife will check the health of both mother and baby and progress in feeding, and may extend the period for up to four weeks until they are happy that both mother and baby are settled.
A health visitor will be assigned approximately two weeks after the birth and will pay regular visits during the early years of the childhood. They will present a health checkbook, which parents can use to chart the progress of their child and keep track of the vaccinations and tests undertaken. The mother, meanwhile, is expected to undergo a postnatal check-up with her doctor 6-8 weeks after the birth.
Parents have up to 42 days to register the birth of their child. You may be able to register the birth at the hospital (the hospital will advise if this is available) but more commonly it is done at the local register office. The registration does not have to be made in the town where the birth took place. After registering the birth, you will receive the birth certificate. It can be made at any local register office, although if that is the case you will not receive a full birth certificate immediately – only the free, short version that contains just the baby’s details. The longer version, with the parents’ details, can be obtained from the register office in the place of birth.
From the moment your child is registered, you will be permitted to claim child benefit. For the first child, you will receive GBP 20.30 per week and for any further children GBP 13.40 per week (figures capped until April 2014), all of which is paid into your bank account by direct debit every four weeks. If one of the parents earns more than GBP 50,000 a year, the amount of child benefit received each week may be affected.
Maternity and paternity leave
As the mother of a newborn child, you are entitled to 39 weeks of maternity leave if you have been in employment with the same company for the previous half a year (26 weeks). The maternity paid is Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and differs during the entire 39-week period. For the first six weeks you are entitled to 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, and for the remaining period of maternity GBP 135.45 or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
Mothers can take the 39 weeks how they wish. There is no set amount that must be taken before the due date, although you must inform your employer 21 days before planning to leave. Most employers in Britain will also allow for holiday entitlement to be added onto the 39 weeks, creating a longer period of absence. In certain circumstances, maternity leave allowance may total 52 weeks.
Paternity leave is capped at two weeks for fathers and must be taken within 56 days of the birth. You will receive GBP 135.45 a week for the period you take from work. It is possible for fathers to take a further 26 weeks of paternity leave, providing the mother of the baby has returned to work.
Nurseries and crèches
There are many nurseries and crèches available for your child to attend, many of which will accept children from a very early age. Most will look after children from as early as 7 am through to 6 pm in the evening to allow parents to work a full day. There are also government initiatives, which help families cope with the cost of child daycare by offering childcare vouchers tax-free through employers.
National Health Service (NHS): www.nhs.co.uk
Private Healthcare UK: www.privatehealth.co.uk
Birth Choice UK: www.birthchoiceuk.com
National Child Birth Trust: www.nct.org.uk
British Government: www.gov.uk
Expatica / Updated by Bupa Global
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Bupa Global offers international health insurance to expats in more than 190 countries worldwide.
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