So, you’re pregnant! Congratulations!
The first trimester of your pregnancy in Belgium will either seem very long or very short – depending on when you find out you’re pregnant. The first trimester (lasting until midway through your 13th week of pregnancy) is such an exciting and anxious time. Being completely new to pregnancy, it’s natural to have a bunch of questions – and if you’re in a country you’re not native to – those questions multiply by about a thousand!
Your (first trimester) pregnancy in Belgium may go a little something like this;
THE FIRST STEP: After a positive pregnancy test, you will be anxiously awaiting a doctors “final say” in whether or not you are in fact pregnant. Meaning, the first step would be to contact a local practitioner.
For this, you can go to any doctor in your area. This is a little different from in Canada, where you are assigned a “family doctor” at birth and would have to make an appointment with this doctor to confirm your big news.
While you’re awaiting your doctors appointment or subsequent blood test results, one of the other first things you need to do is make sure you have the proper insurance! Health insurance in Belgium is great, and you should be taking full advantage of it (including getting the hospitalization insurance often suggested with the normal plans).
**With your insurance, if you’re with CM (as I am), you will get little yellow stickers. These stickers have your information and your insurance number on them and they will be used every time you have to pay a hospital or doctor bill. Simply stick the yellow sticker on the receipt and stick it into the CM box closest to you and you will get a percentage of that money back.
At your doctors appointment, they will ask some routine questions about your health, take your blood pressure and proceed to do a BLOOD TEST. The questions your doctor asks may depend on your situation and could affect what tests they run on your blood – so honesty is key.
(We were asked questions about smoking, drinking, medical history and weather or not we had pets at home. Having two cats, toxoplasmosis was a bit of a worry, so my doctor was sure to run this test on my blood work).
After your first doctor visit, you will most likely be advised to pick up a prenatal vitamin from your local pharmacy, and sometimes based on your blood work your doctor will give you specific brand names or suggestions for what this prenatal vitamin should contain. For me, I started on OMNIBIONTA, a prenatal vitamin that also contains an OMEGA 3 supplement because I don’t eat fish (a huge source of omega 3).
Within a day or two you will get a call from the doctor with the results!
THE SECOND STEP: If you are in fact, pregnant, your doctor (or later, your gynocologist) will give you some books that will be used to track your pregnancy. These books are very important and are usually needed at every doctors appointment. They will track your weight, medical history and pregnancy journey.
Inside one of these books will be what is recommended as the “normal” pregnancy journey here in Belgium – including when to visit your doctors/midwives/gynocologists as well as what to expect from each visit.
(I have taken photos of my booklet because I couldn’t find this information online.)
THE THIRD STEP: Following this progression will be mostly left up to you. In my opinion, there are a lot of ultrasounds and tests done in Belgium (more-so than I have heard of women in Canada having). The “normal progression” of a pregnancy in Belgium is pictured above, but it’s very important for you to only do the things you’re comfortable with – some women choose to forego ultrasounds altogether, while others love getting to see their little baby every few months.
YOUR FIRST ULTRASOUND will be the first glimpse you get of your baby and it will change your life. This will most likely be scheduled around week 12. After receiving your blood test from the doctor, they will give you an estimated due date (EDD) and based on this date, they will suggest making an appointment with your OB/GYN (gynocologist) around week 12.
Your gynocologist will measure the baby, give you a “proper” due date and make sure all is healthy so far during your pregnancy. Your blood pressure will also be noted and they may even ask you to pee in a cup to measure your levels.
You will also be given a MOTHERBOOK (as I call it in English) – this is where your doctors will record everything from your and your partners’ medical history to how much weight you’re gaining throughout the pregnancy. This book is super important and you will need to take it with you to almost every appointment you have.
*A tip for this first ultrasound is to have a full bladder (which is easier said than done in pregnancy!), this will allow the ultrasound images to be clearer.
Depending on how far along you are (if you’re not quite 12 weeks as the first doctor expected), your ultrasound may be done with a vaginal doppler as opposed to one that gets rubbed on your belly. This can be quite a shock (as it was to me, being only 10 weeks along when we thought I was 12), so be prepared!
NEXT IS MEETING WITH THE MIDWIFE which is also a very exciting experience. This will be your first real interaction with the hospital you’re going to give birth in, as your midwife/midwives are usually stationed there. During this meeting, they will again take your blood pressure and this time most certainly ask for a urine sample (so don’t pee before you go, as hard as that is!!!)
This appointment is really great because you will be given a TON of information such as what to eat, any warning signs, how to stay healthy and active during your pregnancy and more. You will also be able to ask any questions you have (so I suggest writing them down before your appointment).
You will also be told what information sessions your hospital offers and when they are. Most hospitals offer information sessions to parents-to-be including parenting classes, lamaze classes, and informational sessions on things like breastfeeding and after-birth health.
AT OUR HOSPITAL (MOL), they offer information classes on breastfeeding, birth and afterbirth as well as tours of the hospitals maternity ward. These can be taken during group sessions (IN DUTCH) or, if you prefer they can also be done one on one with a midwife (IN ENGLISH). These classes are usually suggested for you and your partner to take during the THIRD TRIMESTER (which we will be doing another post on later, after we’ve taken the courses!)
SOME TIPS FOR YOUR PREGNANCY IN BELGIUM (FIRST TRIMESTER):
- Ask for a copy of your blood work showing your pregnant from your doctor. This will come in handy as your midwife and OB/GYN may need copies but may not have access to them. Our midwife had problems accessing our file sent over from the doctor electronically, so having our hard copy was a good thing.
- Don’t hang on your due date. When do you have your first ultrasound you may be given a different due date than your blood work showed. This is because estimating the due date is more accurate with an ultrasound where they can measure the baby. For us, our original due date (given by our doctor based on blood tests) was December 6th. The due date we later got at the OB/GYN was December 20th. So as you can see, these dates may be a little off. Even after you get your “proper” due date from your OB/GYN, wise women have told me not to focus too much on it as an “end” date because there is a chance your baby could be late.
- Record your ultrasound appointments and/or be sure to ask for sonogram photos to share with your family and friends in other countries. You can find a list of other awesome ways to keep your loved ones connected in this post “How to Keep Your Friends & Family Involved in Your Life Abroad“.
- Don’t be scared to ask for medical staff who speak your native language! This is your PREGNANCY we’re talking about. You will have so many questions (some will be embarrassing and hard to translate) – why not be comfortable in your native language.
- There will be so many people (doctors included) who will suggest or try to persuade you into doing a bunch of tests. Please, talk this over with your partner and do what you feel comfortable with. For us, that meant forgoing tests screening for down syndrome (because for us, there would be nothing that could make us want to abort the baby.)
SOME THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BELGIUM AND PREGNANCY:
- Here in Belgium, they work on a multi-midwife to person basis, meaning you won’t just get ONE midwife, you will have quite a few involved in your pregnancy. (Unlike in Canada where one midwife is assigned to your case.) At first I was unsure of this, because it does seem a little less personal. However, this has several benefits, including always having someone available and the 24 hour emergency number they give you if you have any questions. This number is SUPER helpful and there will always be a midwife on the other end to answer your questions and calm your worries.
- Based on your occupation or job, you may be entitled to certain pregnancy benefits (including early maternity leave!) – so telling your boss you’re pregnant as soon as you release the news to others is a good idea. For me, because I do physical work (housekeeping), I stay at work until 3 months before my due date and then I have to stop and take maternity leave.
- Speaking of maternity leave – the laws here may be very different than where you are from, and it’s never too early to get information about it.
- Again, depending on your job or occupation, you may also need to meet with the doctor from the company or business you work for. Often times this has to do with them needing their own information to draw up the maternity leave documents. This is another reason telling your boss as soon as you can is a good idea.
- Speaking of work – it’s really important to know your rights and follow your instincts. Sometimes your boss will ask you to do things you know you shouldn’t do when you’re pregnant, and in some cases (like mine) your boss will ask you to ignore a doctors orders. DO NOT DO THIS if you’re uncomfortable with it. My advice for any doctors orders you or your boss have doubts about is to get a second opinion from another doctor or a midwife and then stick to your instincts!!
There’s no first trimester video about pregnancy abroad (because I was very nauseous and exhausted in the beginning) – but here is a little video on what it’s like to be pregnant abroad and how to stay connected to everyone during this important time in your life…