1.) What surprised you about prenatal care in Brazil?
I have had two different pregnancies in Brazil, though only one of my kids was born there. Prenatal care is, in general, very disease oriented. Doctors tend to treat pregnancy as a medical condition that needs to be attended to. With my first pregnancy, my doctor sent me for extra ultrasounds, put me on bed rest for a weekend, and had me get many unnecessary blood exams. Yet, my pregnancy was low risk and I was very healthy…no complications at all! My second pregnancy, I searched out more “humanized” (the term that is used here) doctors, and had fewer ultrasounds, fewer blood exams, and felt much better cared for! Finding these humanized doctors took me months of research.
2) What surprised you about giving birth in Brazil?
Hospitals in Brazil have one of the world’s highest c-section rates. The first question people ask when you are pregnant or just had a baby here is “C-section or vaginal?” because many people schedule c-sections without medical reasons. Private hospitals have c-section rates of upwards of 80-90%. I think the thing that surprised me the most was that I overcame that! I had a totally natural, normal birth in a private hospital with a very high c-section rate. The nurses were surprised that I was sitting up and walking around hours after giving birth, since they rarely see women who have had a natural birth. I had the right team — a doula, a supportive husband, and a doctor who is one of the best in the city for vaginal births — and a short labor, so the combination of that allowed me to have a natural birth.
3) What surprised you about postnatal care in Brazil?
The funny thing about post natal care here is that everyone talks about the “resguardo” which is essentially the first 40 days after giving birth. In these 40 days, there are a bunch of cultural taboos of things you can’t do or eat. Like you can’t eat cabbage or eat spicy food or go on walks or take the baby out in public. As an American, I don’t have these taboos, so I pretty much just continued my normal life, just slowed down a bit. I took the baby out when she was three days old. I was at the playground when she was two weeks old. The good thing is that my doctor didn’t put any restrictions on me after birth, as apparently some do. In terms of postnatal care, I felt like it was the same as in the US — two postpartum visits with the doctor, one at two weeks and another at six weeks.
4) Overall impression of the Brazilian pregnancy and birth culture
Pregnancy and birth have so many cultural misconceptions surrounding them that affect even the doctors. I think women in Brazil really need to take it upon themselves to become more educated about pregnancy and birth, and not just rely on what they learn from their doctors. Many people end up having a c-section for reasons that are not actually sound reasons to have the surgery, but most people believe that a c-section is safer (even though it is statistically riskier!) than a normal birth. People often are surprised that I birthed both my kids vaginally, simply because c-sections are, in many places, more common than normal births.
Thank you so much Emily! Stay tuned for next week’s international birth story featuring Northern Ireland!