Giving Birth in Italy

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 one time 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 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.

What to Bring to the Hospital

The hospital will give you a list of items to pack for your stay but I would suggest:

General:

  • 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.

For baby:

  • 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)

For you:

  • 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?

12 Comments

  • Reply Linda Martinez June 28, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    The thing that shocked me the most was the food situation in the hospital/clinics here. We’re in Italy for goodness sake! How is it possible that the food can be so horrible? I was running home as soon as I could! I tried for a home birth with Giulia and ended up at San Camillo – loooong crazy story that we can talk about now that you’re not pregnant. 🙂 I was in a shared room at San Camillo where I had Giulia but then had my own private room at Clinica Annunziatella where I had Paloma and Viola. At Annunziatella I did have to pay a little bit for a private room, but it was totally worth it! I would add to bring your own pillow. There’s something quite comforting about having your own instead of the one rock hard pancake pillow they provide. I would also add bringing slip-on footwear to go to the bathroom or take a little walk around the corridors. Yes, I agree that things are VERY basic at state hospitals and clinics so best to bring everything that you need and don’t assume they’ll provide anything – in some hospitals you even need to bring your own toilet paper and hand soap. I would also include having a way to lock up your valuables or if there’s a wardrobe with a lock in your room to use it. Unfortunately, there have been cases of patients having their belongings stolen while they were in the hospital here. Seriously, how low can you go?

  • Reply Emily July 11, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Natalie,
    thanks for sharing your experience. I will give birth to my second daughter in Cagliari in October and am nervous about the process (my first daughter was born in Australia). How much time did you have with your son before he was taken away from you? I’m very keen to have skin to skin contact for at least the first 2 hours though I have read that this is not standard practice in Italy and I have asked my obstetrician about it but he didn’t seem open to making an exception for me. And is that right that your your husband went with the him when he was checked?
    with thanks,
    Emily

    • Reply Natalie July 18, 2018 at 1:25 pm

      Hi Emily – it was really really short. Maybe a few minutes? I was overwhelmed and didn’t know to ask for longer. My husband did go with him and was with him for the first half of the check before being sent back to me.

  • Reply Kimberley Grasser July 18, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Hi,
    Lots of information on giving birth that is given up here. One of my cousins currently lives in Italy. And she is pregnant now. I am going to pass it to her. Hope so she will be benefited from this. Thanks for the sharing such an informative article.

  • Reply Monse Acosta August 8, 2018 at 5:37 am

    I love your post! I myself will be moving to Rome in a few weeks and will give birth in January. It’s been so hard to come across English articles with this kind of information but this was so spot on! Thank you so much for all your help!!

    • Reply Natalie August 8, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      Congrats! And I am so glad that this was helpful!

  • Reply Olga August 28, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Thank you so much!!! My first was born in UK where I had such an amazing experience, baby wasn’t taken out of the room at all until we left the hospital 9 hours after birth. I’m so scared to give birth in here, already disappointed by the people who work in the hospital, no one knows anything, lost of paper work that is not needed and very arrogant faces, god help me not to fight with someone one day ) I’m in Pisa, and I don’t even know anyone here besides my husbands family.

    • Reply Natalie August 29, 2018 at 9:56 am

      Ciao! There is another comment now that says you can insist. Definitely speak to the hospital and let that be a part of your decision making!

  • Reply MR August 28, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    Hi, I gave birth in Milan In January, and we were told at the prenatal course that 2 hours skin to skin alone with the baby (and father), were the law in Italy, and it was respected. This of course if there are no concerns for the baby or the mother. It was a really great experience for me and my husband!

    • Reply Natalie August 29, 2018 at 9:55 am

      Oh really?? This was not even mentioned in Rome! I will definitely be insisting next time!

  • Reply Jennifer September 9, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    Really appreciate your blog Natalie! I am an American who met my Italian fiance in Rome, and I am in the process of relocating to Italy and planning our wedding this spring. We will be planning our family soon, so this information is really appreciated, I am lucky to benefit from the fact that my fiance works in the medical field. I also greatly enjoyed your post on where to shop for home items, as I will be getting our new home set up this fall.
    Cheers and see you around Rome!

    • Reply Natalie September 10, 2018 at 1:51 pm

      Congrats, Jennifer! And thanks for your kind words about the blog!

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