In the first part of the prenatal care in Germany series I wrote about all the things related to going to the gynaecologist: appointments, ultrasounds and tests, trimester by trimester. This time I’ll focus on the other important person that can help to guide you through the ups and downs of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period: the midwife (in German: Hebamme).
Who is a Hebamme and what does she do?
In a nutshell, a midwife offers more personal support than the doctor and is (almost) always on call if you feel like you need advice or are unsure whether a certain pain or an ache is something to worry about. A midwife can also be a great source of information about all things pregnancy- and baby-related: from tips on how to ease heartburn to advice on choosing a baby carriage.
The possible tasks of a midwife are:
- teaching childbirth classes as well as gymnastics classes for postpartum recovery;
- doing prenatal care – with the exception of the three mandatory ultrasounds, a midwife can take care of all the necessary checks so you can choose to move some of the appointments from the gynecologist to the midwife. This can be especially nice towards the end of the pregnancy when the appointments become more frequent and it becomes harder for you to move around: a midwife typically visits you at home;
- guiding the birth process either at home, birth house (Geburtshaus), or the hospital. In the hospital a midwife will work together with a doctor, but remain the main responsible person unless there are complications. An interesting fact: in Germany a midwife can help in childbirth without the presence of a doctor, but only in emergencies is a doctor allowed to do it without a midwife;
- helping during the first eight weeks of the postpartum period – in the first 10 days after delivery your midwife will visit you at home every day, then every 2-3 days until the end of the 8th postpartum week. She will give advice, teach, and help practically with everything related to taking care of the baby, e.g., breastfeeding, bathing, diapering, as well as your postpartum recovery and general well-being. This is a wonderful service, especially if you’re a first time parent and new to everything (like me).
A German public health insurance will typically cover the midwife costs for prenatal and postnatal care, as well as birth classes, and the birth itself independent on where you choose to deliver. That said, it is up to you whether all of these services are carried out by the same person. You find your own midwife for the prenatal and postnatal visits, and this may or may not be someone who also guides birth classes. Furthermore, each hospital has multiple midwives present at any time of day and night but if you want to have “your” midwife there for the birth, you will have to pay for that yourself and it can get expensive – since the due date is just an estimate you’ll be paying this person for four to five weeks of their time. Personally, I will had several midwives – one who visited me at home, one for the birth classes, and another for the hospital birth.
Finding a midwife
So how do you find yourself a midwife? Typically, you can ask your friends or acquaintances for recommendations, however, this may not always work as midwives often offer their services only in certain parts of a city. In such cases the internet can be your friend and there’s plenty of websites that help you in your search (e.g. www.hebammensuche.de). Alternatively, you can approach the midwives from the hospital or birth house where you want to deliver or midwives that teach birth classes in your area. As this is Germany where nothing should be left to the last minute, ideally you should approach midwives as soon as your pregnancy has been confirmed.
Stay tuned for part 3 of the series about birth (and other) classes!