Is pregnancy covered by insurance?
The costs of giving birth in Belgium are largely covered by a mutual health insurance scheme which residents may join for a nominal fee. This is largely subsidised by the state and covers about three-quarters of the costs associated with giving birth here. Many employers also offer top-up insurance that covers the rest of the costs and additional benefits such as having a single room. For a detailed breakdown in English, check out The Village (www.thevillage.be), which offers detailed information on all aspects of giving birth in Belgium.
What benefits are applicable?
During your pregnancy, the hospital will advise you about the benefits you may receive. If you or your partner are employed in Belgium then you may be entitled to a pregnancy bonus of about €1,000 (prime de naissance/kraamgeld) and monthly payments for your child after the birth. These are usually paid directly to the mother from her partner’s employer, and the hospital will issue you with an application form. Employees should check out their rights with regards to maternity leave and payment, while expats who work on an independent basis should apply for benefits from their mutual insurance scheme and social insurance provider.
What happens when it is time to give birth?
When it comes to the labour, a big question for pregnant women is how they will deal with the pain. Standard practice in many hospitals is to administer an epidural (anaesthetic injection in the lower back) with some citing rates of 90%. Gas and air and the analgesic pethidine are not available (because of the perceived risk to the baby) and while midwives will allow labouring mums to use a Tens (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine, most are not trained in their use.
Despite these limitations, hospitals have excellent facilities. Most women deliver in a private room that has a bath and a shower, and partners are welcome for the duration. It is also possible to have your kinetherapist present and a doula, or birthing assistant. Midwives support laboring women and call on the duty gynaecologist for the final pushes to deliver the baby and in case of any complications. In accordance with Unicef’s Baby Friendly Initiative, midwives encourage mothers to breastfeed their children immediately after birth. They also practice skin-to-skin contact, where your baby is handed to you immediately (barring any complications), and ‘rooming-in’ – letting your baby sleep in a crib next to you during your hospital stay.
How long is maternity leave?
Statutory maternity leave in Belgium is three months with a possibility of adding an extra three months of breastfeeding leave and for you and your partner to work four days out of five for a period as well. Paternity leave is usually 10 days. However, many expats are employed under a contract from their home country or on an independent basis, meaning their national law applies. If you are self-employed in Belgium, you should be aware that statutory maternity leave is only a couple of months.
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