Only a few months after we arrived in Bogota, I discovered that I was pregnant with our second baby. As excited as I was, I also overwhelmed with the prospect of having a baby overseas.
Being with the Department of State, I had the option to medevac back to the US for my birth. The pro’s would have been: no language barrier at the hospital, in my comfort zone, being around family before and after birth. The con’s were that I would have had to leave at 34ish weeks and be in the US with my toddler without my husband. Potentially Gray could miss the birth if I went into labor unexpectedly, or he would have to take a lot of time off to come back to the US.
In the end, I decided it was better to stay in Bogota and give birth so that I could take advantage of having my nanny/empleada help me before/after and Gray didn’t have to use as much PTO to come back to the US. The care I received was pretty much on-par with the US, so it made more sense for us to do that.
Now that my baby is here, I can look back and briefly write about a few things I learned about pregnancy and birth in Bogota.
Colombians love babies, kids and pregnant women.
Whenever I am out with my babies, everyone stops to coo over them and tell me how beautiful they are, ask their names and how old they are, etc. When I was pregnant everyone wanted to guess if it was a boy or girl and then remark on how wonderful it was that I would have my “parejita” (a boy and girl).
You can have a safe, healthy pregnancy in Bogota!
Despite being in a tropical country, Bogota is at 8600 feet elevation with zero risk for mosquito-borne illnesses.
Fundacion Santa Fe is one of the top hospitals in South America. The Labor and Delivery ward is brand new, sparkling clean and just as modern as an American one. I also had friends that used Clinica del County and Clinica de la Mujer, which are also great hospitals, but at the time (2018) those hospitals were limiting when spouses could be with their laboring partners, so I was pretty firmly decided on FSF.
Having a baby is pretty cheap… comparatively.
It is inexpensive to have a baby in Colombia in comparison to the US. Even though my health insurance covered 100% of my care, the hospital and doctor’s bills were still only a few thousand dollars. Doctor’s visits, lab work, and ultrasounds are also much less costly than the US.
Being pregnant is a part-time job.
For whatever reason, nothing is consolidated here and the doctor’s visits, lab work, ultrasounds, hospital visits, etc. will take a ton of time since they are all at different locations, require appointments, and you must battle Bogota’s traffic to get to them. (Some doctors have ultrasound machines in their offices which helps, but mine did not.)
Colombian doctors like their babies “al dente”.
As one of my friends described it, doctors here regularly will not let you go beyond your due date, even if the baby is totally healthy, and they usually induce labor for a variety of reasons – some less than evidence-based. I’ve been told part of this is due to the insurance companies, but I think it’s also the culture. One of my friends was told she needed to be induced early, and only later found out that it wasn’t necessary, but her OB had a conference in India planned on her due date!
Natural birth is a unicorn
Once at a playgroup, I heard another mom joke that her doctor never saw her vagina, and many other women there laughed in agreement. The C-section rate in Colombia is absurdly high, studies showing anywhere from 50%-80% of all births. In comparison, the World Health Organization recommends only 15%. Clearly, emergency C-Sections are a huge advantage of modern medicine, but here in Bogota, I have heard ridiculous things like “the baby is head up at 5 months, so we’ll have to do a C-section.” Almost everyone has a scheduled induction as well, and so it is rare to see someone go into labor spontaneously.
…. But you CAN find doctors willing to try for a natural birth!
I had a home birth with midwives for my first baby, and while I didn’t want a home birth in Colombia, I did want a doctor that would support my goal of a low-stress, low intervention pregnancy and birth. I was able to find an OBGYN who spoke English and when presented with my list of “demands” was happy to make it happen. I am so happy with my care with her, that I have already sent at least 4 other friends her way – and am happy to share her information with anyone else that is looking. She is a gem.
Birthing support is limited.
Several of my friends used doulas here in Bogota. I also only know of one person who had a homebirth with a midwife, but this is very rare. Some hospitals don’t allow doulas, and others restrict when they can and cannot be with you.
At one hospital, their policy is to allow the partner to be with the laboring mother until she reaches 7cm, at which point she is taken to another “group laboring” room and her partner is not allowed to accompany her. She then stays there until she is ready to push, when her partner can rejoin her in another room like an OR. This policy makes no sense to me, and I hope they will change it to allow the laboring mother to be supported through transition by her partner.
Not all hospitals have modern practices.
For example, it is not standard to have the baby stay in the room with you. One reason I chose Fundacion Santa Fe was because they did allow that. If you want immediate skin to skin contact or delayed cord-cutting, make sure to ask in advance.
Hospitals do not provide supplies.
You bring your own newborn hat, diapers, swaddles, etc. You have to bring your own toiletries, clothes, pads, postpartum diapers, towels, baby blankets. Things you might be able to get from a US hospital and then take extras when you leave – don’t count on that here.
You can get inexpensive, postpartum help!
Household help is inexpensive and good quality, which was the truly best thing about being pregnant in Colombia. I heavily relied on Rosa during the early months when I was horribly sick and she was invaluable to my postpartum recovery. You can also hire a temporary nurse to help with a newborn baby – and even a night nurse (!) so that you can get some sleep in those early days.
You can get everything delivered.
I can’t even begin to talk about how amazing this is. With Rappi, you can get groceries, diapers, medicine, office supplies, anything delivered for such a tiny cost. Not just from stores, but you can hire a Rappi to pick up something (i.e. a prescription or something from a friend) or deliver something. I have had them pick up glasses for my husband, regularly bring me groceries, medications, diapers, whatever. If I don’t have to leave the house with tiny children – I won’t.
You can get someone to come to your house to do lab work. I didn’t find this out until after I had had my baby, but it IS an option with some companies. (If you work at the US Embassy, they also have a Siplas lab in the Med Unit, which is very convenient.)
You can also get some pediatricians to come to your house and some will even do vaccinations. It’s amazing.
Baby “stuff” is expensive.
Not a big secondhand market here, and new stuff is usually imported and thus expensive. Bring what you can from your home country and/or ask visiting relatives to bring stuff too. 🙂 I still had some stuff from my first baby, but the main thing I needed and asked relatives to bring were secondhand baby clothes because new ones are so expensive here.
Now that I can look back on that year, I wouldn’t change what I did. I think it was the right decision to have the baby here and we were mostly happy with the care received. You just might have to adjust your expectations a little… and definitely get a Spanish tutor! 🙂 I also recommend finding the Bogota Parents’ Facebook group on Facebook since there is a ton of information there for prenatal and postpartum care, providers, experiences, where to find stuff, etc.
Also, if you’re interested, here’s a link to where I write about my birth experience in Bogota.