Starting a family in a foreign country can be an unsettling prospect. Luckily, as with all aspects of German healthcare, the standard of care is very high. If you have discovered you are pregnant or you are trying for a baby, the below gives an overview of what to expect when you’re expecting in Germany.
Pregnancy & Health insurance
The first step for any expectant mother should be to make sure that you are covered by German health insurance. Statutory health insurance provides comprehensive cover for expectant mothers, everything from check-ups to childbirth. If you have private health insurance, you should check with your provider to see exactly what is covered.
Prenatal care in Germany (Schwangerschaftsvorsorge)
If you discover you’re pregnant, your first step should be to make an appointment with your gynaecologist (Frauenarzt). You can normally make an appointment directly with them, but you may need a referral from your regular doctor (GP). This appointment normally takes place around eight weeks after conception. If you are working in Germany, you can request a confirmation of pregnancy (Schwangerschaftsbestätigung) to present to your employer.
After this, you will attend 12 regular check-up appointments: one every four weeks until week 32 and then every two weeks thereafter. Your employer is obliged to give you time off to attend these appointments. Routine care usually includes:
- Urine analysis
- Blood pressure checks
- Blood tests
- Pelvic exams
Receiving your Mutterpass
After your first appointment, you will receive a document known as a Mutterpass (mother’s passport). This is an important piece of paperwork where the results of all of your tests are recorded. You must keep it safe and bring it with you to every doctor’s appointment. You also need to bring it to the hospital when you give birth.
Choosing a hospital
In Germany, you have three options for giving birth:
- In a hospital
- At a birthing house
- At home
Most hospitals offer an information evening (Infoabend), during which prospective patients are able to have a look around the facilities, meet with the staff and ask questions. Once you have made your decision, it is a good idea to pre-register with your chosen hospital so that all arrangements can be made in advance. You will need your Mutterpass, your passport, and possibly a copy of your birth certificate (and marriage certificate, if you are married).
Choosing a midwife (Hebamme)
Towards the end of your pregnancy (or sometimes earlier), you will start meeting regularly with a midwife (Hebamme). They will come to your home, administer check-ups, and support you before, during and after the birth of your child. A midwife is usually the responsible person at your child’s birth, although it may not be the same midwife who administers your home visits.
You can select your own midwife, or be assigned one by your doctor. It is worth searching for one in advance (usually at around 12-15 weeks), as many can only take on a few patients at a time. In larger German cities, it is usually possible to find English-speaking midwives. The website Hebammensuche allows you to search for midwives according to location, language ability and specialism.
Prenatal classes (Geburtsvorbereitung)
You should complete a prenatal course (Schwangerschaftsvorbereitung or Geburtsvorbereitung) four weeks before your due date. There are many different types of courses in Germany. You can either take them at your chosen hospital, or through an alternative provider such as the German Red Cross.
There are several different types of courses, i.e. for first-time parents or single parents, and usually English-language options as well. Your hospital or midwife will able to advise you on the courses available to you locally.
Going on maternity leave
Maternity leave is more of a requirement than a right in Germany - from six weeks before birth to eight weeks after (longer in the case of multiple or premature births). During this time, if you are employed, you continue to be treated as an “active employee” and receive your full salary as part of your maternity benefit. After your maternity leave period ends, you can apply for parental leave.
If you wish to take maternity leave and parental leave (your partner is also entitled), you need to inform both your employer and your health insurance fund in advance. It is wise to take care of this at least several weeks before you intend to go on leave.
Giving birth in Germany
If you think you are in labour, you need to go to your chosen hospital. Call ahead to let them know you’re coming, and bring your Mutterpass. You will be examined to make sure you are actually in labour and, if so, you will be checked into a birthing room (Kreißsaal).
After the birth, you will be given some time to recover before being taken back to the ward with your baby. A standard hospital stay following birth is between three and seven days in Germany (or up to 14 in the case of a caesarean section), but you are permitted to request early release. During these days you will be regularly checked on by nurses, who can assist you with breastfeeding and bathing. Your baby will undergo several tests to make sure they are healthy.
Leaving the hospital
After the birth, you will continue to receive regular visits from your midwife to check on both you and the baby. Before leaving the hospital, you need to make sure to collect some important pieces of paperwork:
- Your Mutterpass containing all details of the delivery (there is space for two births to be recorded).
- A child’s examination book (Kinderuntersuchungsheft), similar to a Mutterpass for the baby.
- A record of birth (Bescheinigung über die Geburt) signed by either the midwife or the doctor.
Registering the birth
Your new baby needs to be registered at the registry office (Standesamt) within seven days of the birth in order to receive a birth certificate and a tax ID (even babies get them in Germany!) Once you have a birth certificate you can also apply for child benefit and a passport for your child.
As new parents, both you and your partner are entitled to Germany’s generous parental allowance.