First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.
Or, so the story goes. We’ve discussed dating (and therefore covered love, right?) and marriage, so naturally we need to move onto babies. While contrary to the children’s playground song above, many Swedes move from love directly to babies. As I mentioned in this blog post, it is very common here to skip marriage altogether, or to get married after 10 years together and having already had children.
Every year in Sweden about 100,000 children are born. Overall, Sweden is a very safe place to give birth and has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. Less than four in every 100,000 women die while giving birth in Sweden annually. And it is safe for babies, too. According to Unicef, Sweden has an under-five mortality rate of 2.6 per 1,000 births, down from seven in 1990. For comparison, the US is currently at 6.5. Sweden also has a low caesarean rate of 16.4 percent of live births. The OECD average is around 28% and the US was at 32.5% in 2016.
In Sweden, the entire birth process is handled by midwives (barnmorskors). Hospital doctors are only used in cases where the mother has certain existing health conditions or if a complication arises. Like doctors, Swedish midwives take an oat of confidentiality. It has been like this since the 18th century in Sweden and is clearly working well for them.
In Sweden, the first appointment with a midwife typically takes place between week eight and 11 of pregnancy. While this is a little later than in the US, it is in-line with other European countries. Your appointments will take place at midwife clinics, or mödravårdscentralen (MVC). Prenatal care is free, although the specific hospital you visit may have a daily charge of approximately 100 SEK (~$13 USD).
You will see a midwife between six to ten times during the pregnancy, typically. Of course, first time mothers, or those with any preexisting conditions, will be at the higher end. And should you need any extra help, such as medical or psychological (remember my post on mental health?), your midwife can make a referral.
About 95% of women here give birth in a maternity clinic at a local hospital. Many have an adjoining “hotel”, where new mothers and their partners may stay for two or three days after a birth. Here, nurses can monitor and care for mother and baby. Similar to the birth, this is almost fully tax-funded.
Giving birth in Sweden is cheap to residents because of the high-cost card (högkostnadskort) maximum of around 1,200 SEK (~$145 USD) annually. But if you are not a resident, don’t have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), or are a foreigner whose country has no reciprocal agreements with Sweden, giving birth costs approximately 65,000 SEK (~ $9,000 USD).
Once your baby is safely here, you will find that this country is built for babies! There are parks everywhere, with plenty of swings, sandpits, and playgrounds for all ages. In fact, almost all playgrounds in Sweden have a different theme!
Most shopping malls and libraries have nursing rooms and changing tables in bathrooms. But Sweden is (thankfully) pretty liberal with breastfeeding in public. If you are sitting down to enjoy a meal in the sun, it is likely the infant next to you is too. We all gotta eat, right?!
You will see strollers (prams) everywhere here in Sweden and many libraries and museums offer designated parking spots to keep them out of the way. Buses and trains also have designated areas for strollers and offer free transport to children under a certain age.
Most children in Sweden go to preschool (förskola) at 18 months. While there is a fee, it is usually the same as the monthly child allowance (which was 1,250 SEK (~$150 USD) in 2019). Don’t worry, I’ll be covering parental leave (föräldraledighet) and benefits in an upcoming post!
From the age of six, school is completely tax-funded and often includes lunches. Of course the education is great here, including English courses starting in 3rd grade (that is why Swedes are so good at English, remember?). Kids have life pretty good here with 16 weeks of school holiday a year (adults “only” get five weeks, minimum). They also get plenty of time outside. I often see kids walking around in safety vests on class field trips about town. Kids of all ages have these class field trips, but my favorite is when you see the toddlers waddling around in their full-body playsuits looking like little marshmallow starfish. This is honestly one of my favorite sights in the world and I can’t help but feel pure joy when I see them on the street! It is seriously the cutest thing and if it wasn’t totally creepy to take pictures of kids you don’t know, I would have one here to show you.
All in all, Sweden is probably the best place in the world to have a baby. Kids here seem to have a great life and parents are super involved. Swedish babies are also so calm and quiet compared to American babies. Maybe lagom is just in their blood?
- Almost half of all Swedish households are made up of childless single adults, compared with less than a third across Europe, according to Eurostat.
- A Lamaze course is known as profylaxkurs in Swedish. You’ll learn breathing techniques and strategies to alleviate pain and stress during childbirth. Different areas offer different courses, including discussion groups (samtalsgrupp), prenatal yoga, water gymnastics, diet, exercise, etc.
- Of course it is well known that pregnant women should not be drinking a bottle of wine each night. In fact, nobody should be drinking a bottle of wine each night! But many countries are more liberal in their guidelines about women drinking the occasional alcoholic beverage during pregnancy. Sweden is not one of those countries.
- Caffeine, however, is less frowned upon. Ah, those fika-loving Swedes cannot go without a cup of caffeinated coffee even during pregnancy.
- “Standard” epidurals (by US or UK standards) are less common here. Instead expect a combined spiral or “walking” epidurals, which allows the mother to use her legs and walk around.
- Barn means both “child” and “children”. Do you think the inventor of that word thought kids are animals?!
- If you don’t speak Swedish well, know that you are entitled to an interpreter at any appointments you may have connected to your birthing process. Just let the clinic know before you book!
- Looking for the best playgrounds in Stockholm? Try these. If you find yourself in Malmö or Gothenburg, try these.
- How do you transport your kids without a car? Well, with a bike of course! Many bikes here have a child seat on the back. The Cargobike is another popular transportation method.
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!