If you’re having a baby in Belgium, here’s a guide to prenatal care, delivery, aftercare, birth registration, child benefits, and maternity and paternity leave in Belgium.
If you’re planning to give birth in Belgium, it is good to know that both public and private healthcare systems are highly regarded. It’s important, however, to make sure you have the healthcare cover you desire well in advance before having your baby. Partena, a Belgian company offering health and social security coverage and advice to expats, expands on what to expect when having a baby in Belgium.
If you give birth in Belgium, the majority of births take place in maternity hospitals, overseen by a midwife, nurses, gynaecologist and a physiotherapist (to assist with pain relief). Specialist clinics (maison de la naissance) and private hospitals are also available in Belgium, as are home births — although the latter remains fairly uncommon across the country.
The general standard of Belgian healthcare is excellent and there is a range of support services available which are designed to make the pre- and post-natal process as safe and comfortable as possible. You can read an overview of the Belgian healthcare system in our guide to healthcare in Belgium.
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Prenatal care in Belgium
An appointment with a doctor or midwife at your medical centre is the first port of call for those looking to confirm their pregnancy.
The degree of contact you have with your doctor throughout the pregnancy period will vary according to which region of the country you reside in. Doctors in the Flemish region tend to play a key role throughout the pregnancy, as do gynaecologists. In the French-speaking areas of Belgium, however, women generally only see their gynaecologist.
You are free to select a gynaecologist of your choice, and there are plenty of organisations for those looking for help when it comes to choosing a gynaecologist, such as the French-speaking ONE (Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance), Dutch-speaking K&G (Kind en Gezin) and the Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT).
These organisations are able to provide you with a gynaecologist free of charge, similar to other essential pregnancy services, such as the birth itself and subsequent hospital stay – all of which are covered by the mandatory health insurance paid by anyone who is employed in Belgium. Even women who aren’t covered by insurance will find that their pregnancy costs are covered, courtesy of the Public Social Welfare Centre (Les Centres Publics d’Action Sociale, CPAS, in French, or Openbaar Centrum voor Maatschappelijk Welzijn, OCMW, in Dutch ).
In the French-speaking regions, expectant mothers will have regular check-ups with a Medical Social Worker (travailleur medico-social or TMS) who will be employed by the ONE organisation. Once pregnancy is confirmed you will receive a maternity booklet, known as the Carnet de la Mere in French. You must bring this booklet with you to all future consultations with your GP or TMS.
In the Flemish region, meanwhile, mothers receive regular home visits from a nurse and have the opportunity to attend prenatal courses, some of which are available in English.
Giving birth in Belgium
In contrast to countries such as the Netherlands, where women are often released from hospital within 24 hours of giving birth, the Belgian system usually involves remaining in hospital for at least five days. In addition to doctors and midwives, the delivery process will also involve a physiotherapist. The latter will be on hand to ensure the mother is able to recuperate physically in the period after the birth. Your gynaecologist of choice will also be in attendance.
If you opt for a home birth it will only be granted if you are deemed to be in good health, and the process will generally be overseen by two midwives. The midwives will remain at your home for several hours after the birth to ensure there are no unexpected developments. One midwife will then drop by for a visit every day for up to two weeks after the birth in order to assist and offer advice, and a visit to the GP is also required within the first week after delivery. Midwives for the Flemish region and Brussels can be found at www.sage-femme.be.
Alternative birth locations include so-called ‘birth houses’ (maison de la naissance) which are designed to provide more home comforts, with a midwife overseeing the birth. The houses offer a range of post-natal care services and classes, while some also allow the father to stay overnight during the birth. Some insurers cover the costs of birth houses, so it’s wise to consult your relevant provider prior to making a final decision.
Maternity aftercare in Belgium
In line with common practice in many other countries, babies in Belgium are required to attend fairly regular check-ups with GPs during the first couple of years of their lives. This will often involve vaccinations, which are provided free of charge at the following stages of the new-born’s life: 2 months, 3 months, 4 months, 12 months and 15 months.
Parents can also choose from a range of nursery services aimed at new-borns up until the age of three. Nurseries can be found in many local community halls or run by the Public Social Welfare Centres and you may be eligible for a government subsidy to cover some of the costs, depending on your personal sitiuation. You can read more information in our guide to childcare in Belgium.
Registering a birth in Belgium
Belgian law states that the birth of a child must be registered at a town hall within 15 days of the birth. The registry must take place at the town hall (maison communale) which is located closest to the place of birth, as opposed to where the parents live. You can find the details of your local town hall in Belgium on the official government website. To complete the registration, parents must bring a medical certificate provided by the hospital, a marriage certificate (if applicable) and ID cards for both parents.
Upon completion of the registration you will be issued with documents which can be used to apply for child benefits. Expats are advised to also register the birth with their relevant consulate as soon as possible in order to ensure the child receives citizenship to their relevant country.
It is important to note that babies born in Belgium will only be eligible for Belgian citizenship if the parents have spent a minimum of five consecutive years living in the country in the 10 year period prior to the birth.
Up until recently, all new-borns in Belgium were required by law to take the surname of their father. In early 2014, however, a government bill was passed which enables parents to choose whether the baby takes the surname of the father or the mother – or both.
Belgian maternity and paternity leave
If you are working, you need to tell your employer no later than eight weeks before the due date. Mothers can take up to 15 weeks maternity leave (or 19 weeks in the case of multiple births), receiving benefits equivalent to 82% of full salary for the first 30 days and 75% for the remainder (subject to a maximum amount currently set at €104.80 per day). Self-employed mothers can take 12 weeks of maternity leave in Belgium (13 weeks with multiple births). Fathers can take 10 days paternity leave, seven of which are paid at 82 percent of the salary (subject to a maximum) within the first four months of the birth.
Mothers can also opt to take eight months part-time leave, meaning they take on part-time hours at their place of work for the eight month period.
Childbirth benefits in Belgium
Parents in Belgium are entitled to a birth allowance (Startbedrag), which can be claimed after 24 weeks of pregnancy and up to 5 years after the birth of the child. Normally the allowance is paid to the biological mother but it can be paid to the father, or a step-parent or oldest person in the household if neither biological parent is able to do so.
You can apply for the Startbedrag through the National Office for Family Benefits for Salaried Persons, although those in employment usually make their application via their employer. The medical experts providing the pre-natal care will provide the relevant documentation and the actual pay-out will be made directly to the mother. You can expect to receive the money at some point after the eighth month of pregnancy, with the amount depending on how many children you already have.
Once the birth has taken place you must provide the benefits office with a proof of birth, which can be obtained when registering the birth at a local registry office.
For a detailed breakdown of Belgian child benefit rates visit: www.kids.partena.be.
- Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT): www.bctbelgium.org
- Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance (ONE): www.one.be
- Kind en Gezin (K&G): www.kindengezin.be
- Social Security Office: www.socialsecurity.belgium.be/en
- Office for Family Benefits for Salaried Persons: www.famifed.be/home
- Community Help Service: www.chsbelgium.org