More and more expats in Singapore means more and more babies born here.
Daniella Jenson was 56 hours into labour when she was asked once more if she needed a caesarean section. “I was thinking, I’m not getting a c-section, that’s another $4000. I was like, 4k or another little bit of pain? That’s a few more holidays in Thailand, push on.”
The 27-year-old was having her first child, Daniel. She is telling this tale at a table full of expat mums at Café 211in Holland Village – the group get together to chat about all things to do with motherhood in Singapore. The cost of having a child here, which Daniella was referring to, is just one of the many aspects of having a baby in Singapore which differ from our respective home countries.
For the mums at the table, the planning started long before birth.
Michelle Rose, mum of 10-week-old Hugo, started by researching hospitals, costs, pregnancy groups and more. “I looked at doctors, obstetricians, ones that were pro natural birth,” she says. Some mothers go to lengths to find the right obstetrician, even interviewing potential candidates, but none of the ladies at the table had gone to those lengths.
Once mothers have their OB/GYN sorted, it’s off to get a pushchair, clothes, bathing supplies and all the other things that a new baby will need. All at the table agreed Singapore is an expensive place to buy that gear. Many went back home to buy baby supplies – the supplies sometimes costing less than half of the same products in Singapore.
As the due date draws closer, the bill starts to grow. Unlike in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the women at the table couldn’t get public healthcare for their birth.
“It’s not cheap to take out health insurance,” says Amber, who is here with baby Olive. The other thing to be conscious of, is there’s a waiting period,” says Michelle.
Almost all private insurers have a waiting period, ranging from about 10 months to 24 months, which mum has to wait out before she’s covered. For the mums at the table, the costs ranged between $6500 to $13,000. But for those who have complications and don’t qualify for insurance, the costs can balloon. A friend of Daniella’s had a baby born at 31 weeks and ended up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), costing $230,000.
Mum-to-be Nikki Booth was already pregnant before her husband’s company moved them here “so we just had to go with the flow”. She is hoping there won’t be any complications with her baby’s birth in March.
Caesarean sections cost more than natural births, too – part of the reason why Daniella was reluctant to take that option.
One thing all mothers agree on is the quality of care at the hospital. Amber says” “The care you get in the hospital is amazing. I kept calling it the hotel.”
Nikki went to Thompson’s Medical Centre, and was given a tour by a marketing officer. “They take you through the hospital show you the birthing suites, ward rooms and the nursery. They’re really nice rooms but for me, I’m not too concerned about having an LCD TV or anything like that.”
Dr Mahesh Choolani, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who has been practising in Singapore since 1993, says the type of obstetrics practised here in Singapore is very British-based and very similar to that in the UK. “It’s very much world class. It’s certainly very affordable healthcare system for the quality of the care delivered to the clients.” He says more and more expats are having babies here. In general, about three quarters of births are natural births, and natural births are common amongst expats. One important thing Dr Choolani says, is it’s important that decisions are made involving everyone in the room: mum, dad and doctor. “It’s a matter of managing expectations, it’s there to minimise risk it there to make things safe for mum and baby.”
Once mum, dad and baby are safely back at home, there are some cultural aspects of being in Singapore to consider. One is the period of confinement, a cultural practice of some in the Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities in Singapore. Ranging between 30 and 44 days, the period is typically one of rest, where the mother stays inside at home. Depending on one’s culture, there are different practices around what the mum can and can’t do, but these range from daily massages, special foods and drinks, bathing with special salts, avoiding washing the hair and more. None of the mums had heard of it before they moved to Singapore, and none went down the traditional confinement path. One thing they did notice was the reaction to them being out and about with a newborn. “If you get on the MRT – the looks from the locals!” says Michelle. Daniella says she got lots of comments, such as “why are you out”.
Another cultural aspect of childbirth all the mums made use of was the postnatal wraps and massages which are common in Singapore and are supposed to help with the figure. “It was great. They give you a full-body massage for an hour and wrap you from your ribcage to your hips. It’s like an old-school corset,” says Michelle. “That’s one thing I’m glad I had done,” says Daniella. Dr Choolani says, “what I found interesting is while it’s not a medical event, a lot of local and expat mums partake and quite like it. Maybe it’s about pampering.”
Being in Singapore and away from the wider network of family can make things tough for new parents, but many of the mums had family come to stay. I didn’t want anyone for the first eight weeks. I got different advice coming from all sides,” says Daniella. But Sonja Hewitt, 35, didn’t have any family come to help her with daughter Cordelia. “I quite enjoyed that quite time. I’d get into a routine, says the Londoner.
It can be hard not having the family be an every-day part of baby growing up. “I feel sad that my family’s not around getting to see him grow up. Skype’s a Godsend but it’s not the same,” says Michelle. “That’s hard, he’s not got any family over here but we do the best we can,” says Daniella. “That’s why I joined a lot of groups – to give him a good range of friends.”
They agree the social support is second-to-none, with many coffee mornings and chances to get together for a chat. “I think I would be quite lonely back home,” says Sonja.
None of the mums have any regrets about having a baby in Singapore. Says Sonja: “After having a baby in Singapore I wouldn’t have one anywhere else.” Amber agrees. “It’s fantastic. You can be a stay-at-home mum and afford to do that.”
This article was originally published in January 2013.