I am trying not to inundate the blog with information about what it was like to be pregnant in Italy, but at the same time, I know that when you ARE pregnant you are usually scrimping around for whatever information is available. SO, let’s talk about giving birth in Italy.
Just as in many countries, there is no one way to give birth in Italy. You can arrange to go to a birthing center, find a private hospital or even have a home birth with a midwife. However, the most common experience is to give birth in a public hospital. When I was pregnant, I joined the Italian national health system in order to give birth this way.
Please remember that I have given birth exactly two times in one country, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. Happy to hear about your experiences as well!
Giving Birth in Italy
During pregnancy in Italy, it is possible to be followed by either a private or a public doctor. If you have a public doctor, you will likely give birth at the hospital where your doctor is based. If you have a private doctor, you are still able to give birth at the public hospital if you are part of the SSN.
Selecting hospital is the first step in preparing to give birth. In Rome, Bellies Abroad runs a birth class that looks into your different options. I ended up asking around and reading online message boards in Italian before selecting mine. I was looking for a hospital that had multiple delivery options, a lowish C-section rate, and would bring the baby to me right after delivery rather than keeping him in the nursery. I gave birth at Città di Roma in Monteverde and was happy with the experience. Other popular hospitals in Rome are Gemelli, Mater Dei (private) and Fatebenefratelli.
Città di Roma is smaller (which I liked), but less specialized. If you have any risk factors or go into labor before 36 weeks, you are advised to give birth at a larger hospital because they can handle a wider range of needs and emergencies. If, God forbid, a complication should arise and you have chosen a smaller clinic, then it is possible that the mother and the baby will be transferred to different hospitals for recovery.
Once you have selected your hospital, you will likely need to pre-register. This involves visiting the maternity floor to pre-fill intake forms so that all of your information is on file when you check in. (I did this and it took about thirty minutes. I’m not sure what good it did because I was still interviewed for what felt like ages when I showed up in labor. I did not appreciate being asked detailed medical questions in Italian in between contractions, but what can you do?).
If you want the option to receive an epidural, then you also need to make an appointment with the hospital’s anesthesiologist and have an electrocardiogram about a month before your due date. Public delivery in Italy is free, but you will need to pay for the visit with the anesthesiologist. This was money well spent, in my opinion. I was cleared to get the drugs!
Hospitals often have limited maternity beds so you are asked to come in only when you are in active labor. I started having contractions around 1 am, my water broke at 5 am and I decide to go to the hospital around 8 am.
I dropped my suitcase off in my double room and was told that I could go directly up to the delivery room. I was a bit surprised that I was being sent up so soon but willing to go if that meant that I could get my epidural!
I was assigned an obstetrician, which I didn’t really grasp at first. He met me and walked me up to the delivery room, cheerily asking who was going to be born that day. For the rest of the time I was in the delivery ward, it was always Francesco who checked on me throughout the day, updated me on progress and plans, and ultimately delivered my baby. I was relieved to have that one familiar face because right at the end, about five more doctors and nurses that I didn’t know showed up.
The delivery room itself is private. The only non-medical person allowed in with the pregnant woman is her partner and he must wear a gown and shoe coverings provided by the hospital. Anyone else will have to stay in the waiting room outside of the delivery area.
I had a very positive experience at Citta di Roma but if there is one thing I would change, I would have been clear that I wanted the baby to stay with me. After Giacomo was born, he was placed briefly on my chest before being whisked away to be weighed, checked and bathed. Jimmy went with him while I was told to stay in the room to recover for an hour. I didn’t see the baby again during that time and if I had known that was the standard procedure, then I would have been more firm about having the baby stay with me for longer before being taken away by the nurses.
After that brief recovery in the delivery room, I went back down to my double room and waited for the baby. The other woman who was sharing the room arrived about an hour and a half later.
It wasn’t really strange to share a room because everything is strange right after you give birth. There is suddenly a new human with you. However, having a double room did mean that my husband could not stay overnight with us.
It also meant every time the other baby cried, I woke up.
Finally, the drawback of the double room was visitors. When you have visitors, you worry about annoying the other mother. When she has visitors, you yourself are a bit on edge. It is not really possible to sleep with so many people coming and going. I think there was technically a limit to the number of visitors who were allowed at any one time, but this is Italy and it was definitely not enforced.
Other than that, the room was very basic but also very clean. I gave birth in December so the heat was on, but it was controlled by the nurses.
Besides visits from family and friends, the day is punctuated by short checks from the medical staff. The doctors made the rounds to the rooms in the mornings, and right before being discharged I had to go to another exam room to see the OBGYN on call.
The babies were also wheeled away in their little bassinets in the mornings for a round of checks at the nursery. I selected a hospital where it was possible to keep the baby in the room with you all night, however, if you wanted to you could also ask for the baby to be taken to the nursery so you could get some sleep.
Each bassinet also has a little clipboard on it. I didn’t understand at first that I was supposed to record the baby’s stats on this chart myself – so know that you might have to keep track of feeding times, wet diapers, sleep, etc.
Nurses would also stop by throughout the day and bring me tachipirina. This is essentially aspirin and will be the only pain relief you can count on after delivery.
And the meals? BLEAK! For breakfast, it was camomile tea and fette biscottate (hard pass). Lunch was steamed veggies and a plain hamburger patty, and dinner was more veggies and some sort of soup. All of it came shrink wrapped and straight from the microwave. I immediately sent Jimmy out for food and water, and he also came back the next day with an entire bag of snacks.
My hospital required you to stay for at least 48 hours after the birth – so I elected to go home after exactly two days. As positive as the experience was, I couldn’t wait to be in my own space.
Giving Birth in Italy Post Covid-19
I was eight months pregnant when Italy was the first western country to enter a full lockdown in 2020. It was scary being pregnant early in the pandemic when we really did not understand much about the virus or the illness it caused.
It was also almost impossible to keep up with the rules that each hospital was rolling out on a daily basis. One thing that it is really important to know about the Italian health care world post-Covid-19 is that the rules are set nationally but implemented and amended regionally. That means that it really depends on WHERE in Italy you plan to give birth.
Because we were in a full lockdown, no one was allowed to go to the hospital or any appointments except the pregnant woman. In fact, up until a few days before the birth, partners were not even allowed at the birth. I know of some women who were pregnant at the same time as me and delivered a week or two early and did so totally alone.
Luckily, my clinic started to allow partners in for the final phase of birth. But I still went to the hospital, checked in, and labored alone.
From the moment I left my house, I was wearing a mask. I gave birth in a n95 mask and was required to wear one for my entire stay at the hospital.
I arrived around 6:30 am and was admitted at about 8 am. In the meantime, I waited alone in the waiting room after being examined. They felt the baby was too high to admit me but also didn’t want to send me home.
Once I was admitted, there was plenty of more paperwork to do. This is always the hardest part – sitting in a normal plastic chair at a desk and trying to answer questions in between contractions.
Wearing a mask and being alone was the only thing that differed. The nurses and midwives are also all masked but it is impossible to keep a distance from the staff who are there to help you.
I kept in touch with my husband by phone as I quickly unpacked and then went up to the delivery suite at 11 am. My husband came to the hospital at that point but had to wait downstairs. While he was outside, they kept asking me if I wanted to push and I kept saying “not until you let my husband in.”
He was allowed upstairs at about 12 pm and was given a gown to wear over his clothes. He of course was also wearing a mask.
Juliette was born about 8 minutes later and he was the first person to hold her. He was allowed to go watch her be assessed and weighed and then permitted to stay for 30 minutes or so. After that, he had to leave. The hospital allowed no visitors – not even fathers – so that was the last time I saw him until I was discharged 48 hours later.
What to Bring to the Hospital
The hospital will give you a list of items to pack for your stay but I would suggest:
- Mild soap (you and everyone who visits will be washing their hands A LOT). We used / still use Neutro Med.
- Towels (this is a public hospital. You get a clean bed and expert care, but there are not many extras here).
- Water, tissues, an eye mask – anything that you need to feel comfortable and that you might pack to take with you when staying at a very very very basic hotel.
- Snacks. The food was bland, microwaved and not good.
- Water wipes (though you will be provided with gauze that you can wet and use, and diapers are also usually provided)
- Four onesies
- Four pairs of footie PJs or simple outfits
- Small hat
- Swaddles or light blanket for when you are holding the baby (they will have a bassinet with bed linens provided)
- Whatever you want to give birth in (there are no hospital gowns! I bought a nightshirt specifically for the purpose)
- Other night shirts/comfy clothes to change into for the next 48 hours
- Everything you need for your own personal care post-delivery because nothing is provided. This means pads, mesh underwear, all that fun stuff.
Have you given birth in Italy? Did you have a similar experience?