You have been living abroad now for several years and your expat life is everything you had hoped for and more. You feel comfortable, secure, confident and relatively “at home.” Then you fall pregnant. Your first thought may be to give birth in your home country where you are surrounded by family, a familiar medical system, a trusted personal support network and perhaps even access to government benefits.
Yet, flying home to give birth comes with its own complications. Most airlines do not allow women beyond 35 weeks pregnant or newborns less than eight days old to fly without medical certificates. That means you would be away from Qatar (and possibly your spouse) for a minimum of five weeks.
Travelling home also means that you will need a place to stay. If you own your own home, will you stay there or will you stay with your family during the last few weeks of your pregnancy? Then there is also the issue of waiting for your newborn’s passport and Qatar residency visa—a process that can often require a painful amount of time and effort depending on the country. For these reasons and more, flying home to give birth is not a viable option for many women in Qatar.
But don’t stress about giving birth in Qatar; making a firm plan involving the people who matter, allowing for contingencies, doing your research and setting a budget will help you to relax and enjoy the experience. With the help of local birthing experts, we have put together some tips and advice to get you started and keep you smiling.
1. Check your coverage
What exactly does your or your partner’s health insurance cover and what does it exclude? Are routine maternity costs (prenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, etc.) covered? You should also check whether the costs for pregnancy and childbirth complications (e.g. ectopic pregnancy, failure to progress) are included. Does your insurance allow you to give birth in any hospital or are there restrictions? Some companies only provide coverage for a specific hospital, which may not necessarily be your hospital of choice. Find out if your policy covers the whole amount, a certain percentage or only up to a certain monetary limit. In some cases you will be required to pay upfront and then file for reimbursement from your insurance company, so you may need to budget for this expense.
If you are planning a pregnancy and some of the benefits you require are not covered, you might want to upgrade your coverage. However, note that insurance policy upgrades typically have a waiting period (usually up to 12 months) before you are allowed to access the benefits.
You will also want a Hamad Health Card. This is important, even if you have a good insurance policy. With this card, you can access the services of a state hospital if you experience a premature birth or other types of emergencies. In cases like this you will be referred to Hamad Women’s Hospital regardless of the clinic or private hospital you may have been visiting.
- How many months do you need to have the insurance in place before you can fall pregnant? (Generally 12 months, but sometimes it can be up to 24 months.)
- Which hospitals and clinics are included? Are you satisfied with them?
- Which tests and how many obstetrics visits and ultrasound scans are covered?
- If you experience complications, what will your insurance cover? It might be a good idea to look at the insurance coverage with the “worst case scenario” in mind.
- Does your insurance cover only natural conception pregnancies or is coverage also provided for pregnancies achieved via IVF and other fertility treatments?
- If you’ve selected an obstetrician from a private practice, in which hospitals are they allowed to deliver?
- Are you covered for a caesarean section, pain relief, etc.? There are different policies on these matters, so you need to be prepared.
- How long can you and the baby stay at the hospital? Which postnatal check-ups are included?
- Will insurance cover extra care for your baby if there are complications?
2. Plan your maternity leave
Maternity leave in Qatar is 50 calendar days with full pay, provided you have been working with the employer for at least one year. If you are unwell after giving birth and your doctor can provide a medical certificate, then you are eligible for an additional 60 days of unpaid leave. It is illegal in Qatar for an employer to fire an employee for becoming pregnant or going on maternity leave; however, if you plan to take more than the allotted 50 days and defer your job, consider that your position may no longer be available when you are ready to return.
3. Select a hospital
Your hospital choice will directly impact your doctor selection and vice versa. If you are not covered by private insurance or if you have a high-risk pregnancy then you need to consider choosing a government-run hospital, though you can still have your check-ups at your preferred clinic. If your budget and insurance allow, you may prefer to see a doctor at a private clinic who has surgical privileges to deliver in a private hospital.
The most noticeable difference between private hospitals and government hospitals (apart from cost) is the customer care. A private hospital has a higher ratio of staff to clients, the facilities are normally newer and you can even choose the size of your room—Al Ahli Hospital rooms have been compared to hotel suites, for example.
Make a short list of hospitals and visit them. Most of them will allow you to take a tour and will have someone at reception who can assist you with any questions. For complicated births, all obstetricians will send you to a government hospital where there are specialists and an intensive care unit if required.
Lisa O’Sullivan from Ireland, gave birth at Doha Clinic in 2014. “What I found really strange was that not all the nurses in the birthing ward were midwives,” says O’Sullivan. “This would have to be the only downfall of my whole experience, and the fact that once I ordered some tea and toast but received chicken curry instead!”
Location: Al Rayyan Road, opposite Lulu Hypermarket
Al Khor General Hospital
Location: On the main road towards Al Thaikira
The Cuban Hospital
General enquiries: +974 4015-7777
Appointments: +974 4015-7888
Location: Across from Ezdan Mall Wakra
Al Ahli Hospital
Location: Ahmed Bin Ali Street
Location: On D-Ring road, opposite Regency Halls and near The Mall intersection
Doha Clinic Hospital
Location: New El-Merqab Street,
4. Find an obstetrician
If you deliver in a public hospital, you will likely see whichever doctor is on duty during your appointments and delivery. Private hospitals allow you to select a specific doctor on staff or, some private clinic obstetricians have surgical privileges to practice in private hospitals. The costs of private care vary, so shop around and do your research. Some private clinics charge up to QR 350 per visit, though you can find equally competent clinics that have more reasonable fees. Each obstetrician has different ways of practicing and therefore it is best to always follow your instincts and go with someone who makes you feel comfortable.
Lourdes Aguada delivered at Al Ahli in 2014. “We were sure we wanted to go to Al Ahli Hospital as it had been recommended by many friends,” she says. “The head obstetrician is Dr. Zeenat Rizvi, but since she was fully booked and her waiting list was two months long, I scheduled my appointments with the next senior consultant.”
Some factors you might want to consider when choosing an obstetrician:
- What is the cost per visit? Is there a package that includes ultrasounds, delivery, etc.?
- How well does the doctor relate to you?
- How far is the clinic from your home?
- What is the average waiting time at the clinic?
- Will the doctor accept your birth plan and wishes?
- What are the doctor’s scheduled leave and Ramadan hours (if you want them around for the birth)?
- Does the obstetrician come recommended? Check out the Mum-Approved Docs for doctors recommended by mums like you.
- Do they have privileges to deliver in the hospital that you prefer?
5. Get educated
Pregnancy, childbirth and parenting are some of the most natural human functions—however, that doesn’t mean that they’re always easy or that parents and parents-to-be don’t have questions along the way. This is where pre/postnatal classes can be helpful.
Prenatal classes and care vary in styles but they all have the same goal of preparing the parents for labour, birth and early parenthood. The classes offer practical techniques such as relaxation, breathing and postures for labour and birth and baby care and breastfeeding. They provide soon-to-be parents with an education and an insight into the adventure of parenthood in a hands-on environment. The classes are also an ideal way for expectant parents to socialize with other parents-to-be.
However, not all hospitals provide prenatal classes. Some clinics in Doha provide information about freelance prenatal educators or doulas (well-trained companions who provide emotional and physical support to parents-to-be during or after childbirth) or hold the classes at the clinic themselves.
O’Sullivan says, “I hired a doula who is also a midwife. It was important for us to have someone who I was familiar with and who also had medical knowledge, as I already had my husband for support. I took the doula’s classes on breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, the stages of labour, the role of the husband and what we should expect during labour. Also covered were different positions to use during labour, how to write a birth plan, what to expect after the birth, the standard vaccinations for baby and other important milestones in the first year. Time spent with her was invaluable and she was available anytime for a quick phone call or query. It was money well spent.”
Some topics you may expect in a prenatal course:
- Preparing for labour and delivery
- Signs of labour
- Normal delivery
- When things do not go according to plan
- Caesarean section and instrumental deliveries
- Induction/augmentation of labour
- Alternative pain relief methods
- Breastfeeding and overcoming common problems
- Information on stem cell collection
- Taking the baby home
- Postnatal check-ups
- Baby care
- Introduction to baby massage
Note that home delivery is illegal and not all hospitals allow doulas into the delivery rooms or even waiting rooms, so if you plan to hire a doula, make sure you confirm beforehand that she we be allowed to attend the delivery. The Positive Birth Group Doha Facebook page is a great place to find available doulas and other independent birth and postnatal consultants.
Victoria Scott delivered in 2014 at the Cuban Hospital. She says, “No-one asked about my state of mind or offered to check I was breastfeeding properly. I loved the Cuban and they did help me with breastfeeding when I was there, but Doha still needs health visitors doing home visits after birth, or at the very least, a breastfeeding centre which offers drop-in sessions.” Hamad Women’s Hospital and Wakra Hospital do in fact have postnatal clinics, but many women are unaware of these services.
Clinics and classes
Hamad Women’s Hospital
Pre/postnatal education clinic Sunday-Thursday, 07:00-15:00, Free
Breastfeeding clinic Sunday-Thursday, 08:00-12:00, Free
Al Wakra Hospital
Pre/postnatal education Sunday-Thursday, 07:00-15:00, Free
Yama Yoga Asas Tower
Natural childbirth course 2 days, QR 1,850 (includes materials)
Breastfeeding and baby care class 2 hours, QR 170
Baby massage 4 classes, QR 550
Membership required: QR 200/month, QR 450/3 months, QR 1,250/9 months
Antenatal education course 6 classes
7. Keep fit
There is no better time to have a healthy lifestyle than when you are pregnant. “Safety concerns during childbirth are more of an issue with women who are not active, and despite recent studies, pregnant women are still afraid that exercise will hurt their unborn child,” explains doula Denise Pereira Zanardi. “We know exercise has significant benefits for women, including reducing their risk of depression and their risk of excess weight gain.”
She says, “Minimizing excess weight gain can reduce the risk of C-section, and greater circulation means better blood flow and delivery of both nutrients and oxygen to all body tissues. A leaner body composition means a more efficient use of nutrients and oxygen, and muscle tone directly impacts the rate of return blood to the heart, hence to the baby. Everything done to increase the health of mum during pregnancy will show compounded benefits when delivery day arrives.”
Professor Ahmed Badreldeen from Feto Maternal Centre confirms that moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more most or all days of the week are safe for pregnant women without complications through all the trimesters. “Stick with low-impact exercises,” he notes, “and remember that activities with a high risk of falling, contact sports and scuba diving are not safe during pregnancy.” Inactive women or those with a history of illness before pregnancy, like asthma or heart disease, should consult their doctors before starting an exercise programme.
Already active women should alter their exercise programme accordingly. “Ensure you can still carry on a conversation while exercising, have warm-up and cool-down routines, drink plenty of water, maintain a comfortable temperature, stop if you feel light-headed or dizzy and wear loose, comfortable clothing,” recommends Badreldeen.
Pre/postnatal fitness classes
Yama Yoga Asas Tower
Prenatal Yoga, QR 70/class
Mommy & Me (8 weeks to 3 years), 5 weeks, QR 340
Membership required: QR 200/month, QR 450/3 months, QR 1,250/9 months
Pre/postnatal fitness, prenatal walking, Mom’s Pilates, pre/postnatal fitness, aqua and yoga
On the day of delivery, what is most important is that you have the support of your family (especially your spouse) and your doctor. If they both know your wishes, then it’s more likely they will be carried out. Educate yourself as much as you can and be prepared to be assertive if need be. “Certain practices, like giving newborn babies bottles and taking them away to the nursery for extended periods of time, are ingrained here and you need to be very specific about what you want to make sure you get it,” explains Scott.
The most important thing to do is to look after yourself and try not to worry. If you take some time to plan around your current situation, you will find a solution that you’re comfortable with for a healthy birth.