Childbirth in Italy usually takes place in a hospital, where a stay of three days is normal, although it can be longer if complications arise. Maternity wards usually have two or three beds; mothers must provide clothing and accessories for their babies, although medical supplies are provided. Childbirth is supervised by a gynaecologist, an obstetrician, a nurse and a medical specialist who looks after babies during the first four weeks (neonatologo). Husbands usually attend births, although mothers can ask for any relative to do so. Italian women don’t generally give birth at home and if you want to do so you must arrange (and pay) for a private obstetrician to attend the delivery.
A number of services relating to childbirth are provided by family planning centres (consultori familiari). These are staffed by qualified medical professionals and provide free advice and testing for all phases of childbirth, including ante-natal classes, gynaecological examinations and post-natal assistance by an obstetrician (including home visits). All services at family planning centres are free under the national health service, although preference may be given to low-income families and it may be quicker to pay for a private consultation. Family planning centres also provide free information and counselling on a range of other health issues, including contraception, abortion, parenting, and sexual and marital problems.
If you contribute to social security, the national health service pays for all treatment relating to pregnancy. To qualify, mothers must undergo a number of pre-natal examinations, including ultrasonography (ecografia) within the first, fourth, seventh and (if applicable) tenth months of pregnancy, where sound waves are used to check foetal growth, detect abnormalities, and test for hepatitis B and HIV. Where there’s a risk of miscarriage, a baby is monitored throughout a pregnancy and women over the age of 35 undergo testing for Downs Syndrome. The public health service also pays for a number of pre-conception health tests, for both men and women, to determine whether any genetic malformations are present.
Giving birth in a private clinic in Italy can be very expensive; typical costs are between €3,000 and €3,750. You must also bear in mind that, although the surroundings are likely to be considerably more pleasant and less crowded than in a public hospital, private clinics may lack vital equipment in the event of an emergency. It’s therefore important to check the level of equipment and facilities available, and obtain a complete list of fees in advance.
After you’ve given birth and left hospital, there’s no specific post-natal provision, although a number of services relating to childbirth are provided by family planning centres (see above).
Abortion (interruzione volontaria di gravidanza) is legal in Italy and must normally be performed within 12 weeks of conception in a public hospital or private clinic (there are no specialist abortion clinics). The consent of the father isn’t required, but the woman must sign a consent form. Girls under the age of 18 require the consent of both parents or guardians, or the decision is referred to a judge. ‘Therapeutic’ abortions, i.e. when there’s a likelihood of a child being seriously malformed or the mother’s life is at risk, can be performed for up to 20 weeks after conception. Authorisation by a medical specialist is required for all abortions performed 12 weeks after conception. The cost of an abortion is paid for by the heath service, although you can choose to pay for an abortion in a private clinic. Note that the word aborto means both miscarriage and abortion.
This excerpt has been republished with permission from Survival Books. Some of the information may apply to EU citizens only. If you would like to get the inside track on moving to Italy, pick up your copy of this great book by clicking here.