Friday, August 13, 2010
It's been a bit quiet on the A Girl in Asia blogging front lately - I've been kind of busy having baby number 2! Sofia Camille was born just over a week ago at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok. She's gorgeous and healthy and doing really well so far!
As I'm often getting emails from readers wanting to know the ins and outs of having a baby in Asia, now seems like a good time to do a Frequently Asked Questions post addressing some of the main things people want to know about. Most questions are relevant to people living in Phnom Penh or Saigon (my Asian homes, past and present), since that's where most of the questions have come from:
Q: Should I have a baby while living in Phnom Penh/Saigon? What's the medical care like?
A: Yes! Being pregnant in either city is no different to being pregnant anywhere else, provided you're careful with the usual hygiene issues and don't eat anything you're not meant to! International standard medical care is available in both cities (in Phnom Penh I went to SOS, in Saigon, Family Medical Centre) however keep in mind that in PP you will have to travel somewhere else (like Bangkok) for the two main ultrasounds. They can do basic ultrasounds at SOS and at other clinics in the city, but not the more complex ones like the down syndrome screening. For my first pregnancy I travelled to Bangkok for these and had them done at Samitivej Hospital. Another thing to consider is getting a friend or family member to bring you pre-natal vitamins from home, if you have a specific brand in mind. There is a British brand of vitamins, Pregnacare, available at U-Care in Phnom Penh, but in Saigon it's a little harder to come across anything reputable unless you get your doctor to prescribe some.
Q: Where should I have my baby?
A: Most expats in Phnom Penh (in fact, almost all!) leave Cambodia for the birth. Reason being - there aren't any hospitals of international standard - facilities at local hospitals are basic. However - since I left, a branch of a Bangkok hospital called Royal Ratanak opened in Phnom Penh which might be an ok option, but you may need to check it out for yourself! In Saigon, there's a supposed international hospital, FV, where some expats choose to go, however more seem to leave the country to other Asian cities like Bangkok or Singapore, and many return to their home countries. Some accounts of giving birth at FV paint an ''ok'' picture, but most are quite negative, with particular concerns about poor communication from and between staff, inadequate aftercare with little help in establishing breastfeeding (and giving the baby formula without permission) to incompetent diagnoses of the baby's problems resulting in airlifting to Bangkok(!). The idea of giving birth there didn't fill me with confidence so I chose to return to Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok, where i had my first baby and was really happy with the staff and care and whole experience (except the giving birth bit I mean!).
Q: When do I have to fly to Bangkok/Singapore/wherever else I'm giving birth?
A: This is entirely up to the airlines, rather than your doctor. You need to find out what your particular airline accepts as the latest you can fly, however most (including Thai Airways) cite 36 weeks as the latest in your pregnancy you can fly. You also need a medical certificate or letter from your doctor stating how many weeks you are and your due date, and that you're fit to fly which you need to present upon check-in. I also got a letter to show from when I was 6 months pregnant onwards, just in case they thought I was too pregnant to fly. I'm glad I did as after 6 months (and I was flying all the time!) I kept getting asked for a doctor's letter before boarding.
Q: What are the hospitals like in Bangkok?
A: I can only really speak for Samitivej (where the majority of expats in Cambodia and Laos seem to go, and some from Vietnam) - but it's great! Like a 5-star hotel turned hospital. The staff (all Thai) are so efficient and offer amazing customer service, the doctors very competent and friendly and wonderful, and the aftercare and rooms are great too (they come with a couch bed for partners to sleep on so they can stay in the room with you, there's internet, a flat-screen tv, and you can get delivery to your room from food outlets in the hospital like Starbucks and Au Bon Pain). Even the hospital food is good! But really, the best bit was the all the advice and support from the nurses and nursery staff in the days after the birth.
Q: Where should I stay before and after the birth?
A: I've found the best option considering the duration of the stay before and after is a serviced apartment. We found ours (Tropical Residence) by chance and luck, before our first Bangkok birth, simply by walking around the neighbourhood near Samitivej Hospital going in and asking to inspect any nice looking serviced apartment buildings we came across! Many only accepted stays by the year or more, but fortunately, Tropical Residence is for short term stays too, either by the week or the month. It has a pool, a small gym, mini-golf on the roof, a complimentary tuk-tuk to take you to nearby shops and skytrain stations (and the hospital) which is so convenient, and best of all is walking distance to lots of great cafes and restaurants and massage places in Thonglor (a cool Bangkok neighbourhood). For other hospitals or other cities, it's best to do some online research, and if all else fails, go and inspect places in person on any pre-baby trips there so you can see for yourself what they're like.
Q: What about visas? And the citizenship and passport for the baby once it's born?
A: These things depend on where you're going and your nationality so a little research is called for. I got a 2 month visa in advance from the Thai embassy in Saigon before I came to Bangkok, otherwise (as an Australian) I would have only been stamped in for 30 days upon arrival. I did the same in Phnom Penh at the Thai embassy there before I left for Bangkok for baby number one. As for the citizenship and passport process, it can be easy or painfully long, depending on your nationality and the whims of your country's embassy! Unfortunately I fall in the latter camp, with the process for Australians a long one. First, Samitivej gets the Thai birth certificate translated into English and they also take the baby's passport photo (so cute!). The translation service takes up to 7 working days, however this time we got ours back around day 5. Then - it's paperwork aplenty before applying at the Australian embassy for citizenship (this is the stage we're up to now). They say it could take up to 10 working days. Then once we have that, it's passport application time (more paperwork, more red tape) and another wait of up to 10 working days. So overall - with the arrival in Bangkok at 36 weeks and all the waiting afterwards, it's around a 2 month stay away from Saigon. Don't be put off though - it sounds like Australians have the worst deal. Other people we know who are French and German have had their baby's passport all done and ready much, much quicker. To find out exactly what you need to do and how long it will take, you need to contact your embassy in the country you're giving birth.
Phew! That about covers the main things I've been asked. If you're having a baby in SE Asia (or thinking about it) I hope you find this a useful starting point!!
Tropical Residence (serviced apartments near Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok):
Samitivej Hospital (Bangkok):
My article in AsiaLIFE Guide Phnom Penh on giving birth in Asia: