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Four things you should know if you're going to give birth in Austria

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Four things you should know if you're going to give birth in Austria
Photo by Ömürden Cengiz on Unsplash

Being pregnant comes with challenges, and navigating them in a foreign country can be daunting. From important documents to significant cultural differences, here are a few things you should know if you are having a baby in Austria.

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Finding out you are pregnant is certainly very emotional - the pregnant person (and their partner) can feel anything from fear to jubilation and all things in between. It can bring additional concerns if you are going through this phase of your life in a foreign country, especially if you are not fluent in the local language. 

The good news is that Austria is a very family-friendly country. Mothers are entitled to extensive time away from work. They get two months before and then two months after the due date (a period known as Mutterschutz), with pay and job security, meaning you can't be fired. After that period, parents can share parental leave for up to two years, with many possibilities regarding time off and the money they get.

READ ALSO: ‘Explore all options’: How can parents in Austria choose the right school?

However, it's important to note that the right to time off and payment depend on the type of birth (c-section grants a more extended Mutterschutz period, for example) and your employment status. You can read more about the possibilities for parental leave HERE

During pregnancy and after labour, women can also find many possibilities of events and sports they can attend (there are countless classes such as pregnancy yoga or strength training for mums with prams, for example). Almost all of their health needs, including most pregnancy exams, are covered by public social insurance and, therefore, totally free for mums and their babies. 

The quality of care is also typically excellent, and, overall, Austria is a great country for families. So, if you plan on starting (or increasing) a family here, you should know a few things right at the start.

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The Mutter Kind Pass

Once you find out you are pregnant, the first thing you should do is contact your OBGYN (also known as Frauenartzt in Austria), who will issue you your Mutter Kind Pass, a yellow booklet where they and all health advisors will record you and your baby's health data. 

Many doctors will ask you to wait until around eight weeks for an "MK Pass appointment", as the booklet is only issued once a pregnancy and a heartbeat are confirmed. 

There are no mandatory examinations in Austria. However, if mothers wish to receive the full social benefits the country pays out to families, they must undergo these examinations at specific times. It's the parent’s responsibility to follow those dates, but doctors usually explain each examination beforehand and hand out a roadmap of when you need to do what.

READ ALSO: Austria approves changes to the mandatory 'family passport' Mutter-Kind-Pass

The health results are all recorded in the Mutter Kind Pass, and mothers are advised always to carry the booklet around. Once they give birth, the same papers will document their child's first examinations. 

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Where will you give birth?

After your pregnancy is confirmed, you need to decide where you will give birth. There are three main options: home births, birthing centres and hospitals (public or private). You must register to secure a spot if you plan to give birth in a public hospital. 

In Vienna, some hospitals can be very sought after, and you should apply for a spot early on. Some families sign up as soon as they find out about the pregnancy. Registering directly at the hospital or the official website is possible.

A routine discharge after vaginal birth takes place after three days in hospitals. This is because some of the main examinations for mother and baby occur after delivery at the hospital, where midwives can also help women with recovery, breastfeeding and newborn care. If they wish, mothers can leave earlier, provided they and their baby are doing well and have midwife and paediatrician care lined up for the first week at home.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get the essential Handy-Signatur and ID Austria

Those who want different conditions (including a family room for fathers to sleep with them or a private room) can check possibilities with private insurance and at private hospitals. 

After delivery, mothers and babies stay together in the same room in Austrian hospitals (Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash)

Finding a Hebamme

Austria is a midwife-led country when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Those who plan on giving birth at home will count on the presence of a midwife, known as a Hebamme. At hospitals, labour is typically led by the midwives on call, with doctors only attending in case of emergencies or right at the end.

The public health service also allows women to have a midwife consultation on pregnancy and birth for free during pregnancy and to receive midwife care during recovery (Wochenbett). After being discharged, a Hebamme can come to your house to check on you and your baby and follow your healing and the baby's growth for a few weeks.

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However, "Kassa" midwives who work with the public health system and whose fees are covered by public health insurance are hard to find. Other factors can make it even harder to find a public system Hebamme, such as if you are looking for an English-speaking one - or if you are giving birth during the summer months when many Austrians go on holiday. 

This is why some families start the search for a Hebamme as soon as they find out about the pregnancy. People usually search for a midwife with the help and recommendation of friends or using a search website.

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Typical care and cultural differences

Pregnancy and birth care can vary widely for cultural reasons in each country. Some, like Turkey or Brazil, are known for their high rates of elective c-sections, for example. 

In Austria, doctors rarely even discuss the possibility of an elective procedure like that. C-sections (Kaiserschnitt, in German) are usually reserved for emergency or medically necessary situations. Many public hospitals won't schedule surgeries unless the woman extensively talks with doctors to understand the risks of such a procedure.

Additionally, while in some Latin American countries, the doctor who follows you throughout your gestational period is the same who will be in the delivery room while you have your baby, in Austria, this is a rare situation. When giving birth in the public system, mums-to-be in labour will be assisted by the on-call midwives and doctors - sometimes even more than one team if there is a shift change mid-labour. If you want to choose the health professional that will assist with your labour, you'll have to find a private one, and this service is often very expensive.

READ ALSO: Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers – and what it doesn't

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Austria is known for favouring natural remedies, with doctors and pharmacists often prescribing homoeopathy and aromatherapy instead of medication, depending on the case. This is even more so during pregnancy and birth, and mothers might leave a drugstore with nothing but a roll-on essential oil to treat their headache, a scenario that would be next to impossible in countries such as the US.

Despite being very midwife-led, certain practices that have become obsolete in other countries, including the US, are still very common in Austria and mothers-to-be should be aware. Most notably, episiotomy rates can be as high as 15 percent or more in certain hospitals, where midwives tell mothers that the "small cut" is necessary. 

A more controversial procedure, the fundal pressure (known as the Kristeller manoeuvre for the doctor who described it some 200 years ago), is also widespread in Austria. There are no official numbers as the procedure is not registered in the MKPass as an episiotomy would, but Austrian newspapers have recently written about cases when it was used. 

A Der Standard story even cites a midwife defending the procedure when a doctor applies pressure to the top of the mother's belly to "speed up" or "assist" the labour. The World Health Organisation does not recommend fundal pressure, and the practice is forbidden in the UK.

READ ALSO: Four things you should know before registering your child in a kindergarten in Vienna

Finally, once you give birth, some mothers, particularly those coming from Asian countries, might find it strange that in Austria, the practice of "rooming in" is the most common one. That means mum and baby stay together at all times, day or night. There are no "baby rooms" where the newborns are displayed for friends and family to see them or for the mother to rest. The health professionals in Austria explain that rooming in promotes bonding and has several benefits, including breastfeeding. 

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Speaking of friends and family, you won't see in Austria that typical Hollywood maternity ward where a group of loved ones wait for the father to leave the birthing room announcing the birth of the child (and sometimes even bringing the newborn - bathed and swaddled - with him).  Anyone other than the birth partner will have to wait until visiting hours to see the new baby. 

Do you have any questions about pregnancy and birth in Austria? Leave a comment below or send us an email at [email protected].

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