Having a Baby in Costa Rica: Part 1, Prenatal Care

With only weeks until our new addition arrives, we thought it was time to start sharing our experience of having a baby in Costa Rica. Moving here, we knew that having a baby was part of the plan. We both wanted kids, but with our old jobs in the United States, we didn’t think we’d be around as much as we’d like when the baby was born and during those early years. Moving to Costa Rica and working from home through our website has allowed us the flexibility we were looking for. Now, after traveling around the country for the first two years, we have finally settled down in one place and have a baby on the way in November! This post will share our experience so far with prenatal care and how the system works in Costa Rica. Keep an eye out for part two on delivery, which we’ll post sometime after the baby is born.

 

Having a Baby in Costa Rica

 

This post shares our personal experience and what we’ve learned from others. We are far from experts on this topic so opinions may differ. Hopefully, though, this is a good starting place if you’re thinking of having a baby in Costa Rica.

Background

In Costa Rica, children are held in high regard and protected to the fullest extent of the law. The law goes so far as to guarantee free health care for any child from conception to one year old. This means that all pregnant women, regardless of whether they’re Costa Rican or a foreigner, can have a baby and receive prenatal care through the public healthcare system at no cost. Public healthcare, called the Caja, usually is available only to residents and citizens who pay into the system, but pregnant women are an exception.

Public vs. Private Healthcare

We considered having our baby through the public healthcare system. After talking to other moms, both Tico and gringo, and scouring the Costa Rica expat groups on Facebook, we learned that the quality of care really varies across the country. Some of the public hospitals near San Jose are supposed to be the best and we heard that one of the hospitals in a city near us was very good too. Others, though, especially in more rural areas, don’t have a great reputation.

For us, since this is our first child and we have no idea what we’re doing, we really wanted medical staff who spoke English. We’ve heard that the way it works in the public system is you get assigned a doctor and nurse for your prenatal care and they stay with you for the entire pregnancy. You also get priority in the system and get to make appointments so that you don’t have to wait in long lines to be seen. The drawback, though, at least if you don’t speak Spanish, is that your doctor and nurse may or may not speak English (most likely they won’t). Mainly because of this, we opted for private healthcare. Although we’re working on our Spanish every day, we aren’t advanced enough to understand a lot of medical terminology. Plus, having a baby is one of those situations in life where you’re already nervous enough so having to deal with a language barrier seemed like too much.

Another consideration for us was that private health care is very affordable in Costa Rica. Even without health insurance, we could easily cover our expenses by paying out of pocket. That made the decision much easier. Once we decided on private care, we had to make the harder decision of whether to go to San Jose to one of the private hospitals like CIMA or Clinica Biblica or to stay local.

A lot of expats choose to go to CIMA, both for their monthly appointments and delivery. CIMA is a state-of-the-art hospital, similar to what you would find in North America. The equipment is modern, the doctors are supposed to be very good and many speak English, and overall, the experience is supposed to be what you’re used to if you’re from North America. We liked the idea of knowing what to expect and being comfortable, of course, but were also weighing the fact that we live almost four hours from San Jose. That had us exploring more local options, even if it was just for prenatal care.

 

Having a Baby in Costa Rica
Photo Credit: CIMA Hospital

 

After we found out we were pregnant and really had to figure out a game plan, we connected with an expat from the town over who had recently given birth in Costa Rica. It turned out that she had her prenatal appointments with a private, English-speaking doctor in San Isidro del General, a small city just 45 minutes from where we live near Dominical. She told us that she loved her experience with the doctor and was very happy with her care. This seemed to be the perfect solution.

Our Experience: Prenatal Care

We’ve been seeing our doctor for the last six months, the one in San Isidro who was recommended, and have had such a great experience. He always takes the time to talk with us about how I’m feeling and if we have any questions about anything. The care feels very personalized, and even though he is a busy doctor, we almost never feel rushed out like we sometimes did with our doctors in the US. He seems to be an expert in the field too. Over time, we’ve learned that he studied in Chile and is an expert in identifying birth defects and other prenatal problems through ultrasounds.

One of the things we appreciate most about our care is that I get an ultrasound (3D or 4D) at every single appointment. From talking to friends back home, it seems that ultrasounds are given much less often there and we love the little check-in it provides each month. We not only love seeing the baby, but also enjoy watching our doctor study the image on the monitor, identifying the different organs and telling us what he’s looking for.

All of this personal care is costing us only about $90 per appointment.

The facility is nice too. The doctor’s office is in a plaza right in downtown San Isidro del General. He has a waiting area just like you would expect, with a TV, some magazines, a receptionist, and air conditioning throughout. His office is adjacent to the waiting room. There is a space for his desk where we always spend some time talking, and an adjoining room with an examination bed, ultrasound machine, and other equipment.

 

Having a Baby in Costa Rica
Exam room at our doctor’s office

Getting Ready for Delivery             

As you might have guessed, since we love our doctor so much, it was hard to decide where to deliver. A lot of expats who opt to see a private doctor nearby choose to deliver at one of the private hospitals in San Jose. This was originally our plan too. We figured we’d see the doctor in San Isidro and then when our due date got closer, go to CIMA and find a new doctor for delivery. As we’ve mentioned, we live quite far from San Jose, so if we did this, we’d have to leave our place near Dominical in the weeks leading up to my due date and rent somewhere in San Jose waiting for the baby’s arrival.

Over the course of our appointments, we became so comfortable with our doctor that we couldn’t imagine switching mid-course. Most importantly, I was really confident in him, and we both liked his medical ideology. Unlike a lot of doctors in Costa Rica, he is pro natural delivery, water births, and even home births. Once again, our decision was easy. We would deliver at the private hospital in San Isidro and keep our doctor. Since my pregnancy isn’t high risk, we didn’t feel the need to go to San Jose.

Recently, we toured the Labrador hospital where we’ll deliver to get a sense of what to expect. It is definitely more simple (think rural US hospital) but seems more than adequate. The head nurse was very knowledgeable and walked us around to the different rooms, explaining (all in Spanish) what would happen in each place. We’ll have a private room and have heard that the place is virtually empty most of the time so you often have the whole floor to yourself. Our doctor later explained that he would be with us the entire time too, even in the early stages of labor. We left feeling really good about the whole experience and can’t wait to share how it actually goes.

 

Those are our thoughts on what it has been like to be pregnant in Costa Rica. One other thing we want to mention, aside from the practical info, is that the Ticos absolutely love babies. The culture adores children, and everywhere we go, strangers admire my growing belly. Many give me a smile when they pass by and others want all the details: how far along I am, if it’s a boy or a girl, and even if we have a name picked out. We felt welcome in this country before but even more so now that we’re going to have a little Tico. We can’t wait to bring him into this beautiful place.

Have a question about having a baby in Costa Rica? Ask us in the comments below.

More Posts on Having a Baby in Costa Rica:

More Resources

  • Pura Vida for Parents: Short e-book from the Travel Mother, who lived in Costa Rica with her two young children. The book has lots of anecdotes from different moms across the country who have had a baby here or are raising a family.
  • Ocho Vez – Great blog post from a Canadian woman living in Costa Rica who used the public health system for prenatal care and delivered at CIMA.
  • Mommy Oversees – A young expat who had her first child in Costa Rica using the public healthcare system. Her videos are honest and informative, especially the one about giving birth in a public hospital.

Related Posts

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4 Years in Costa Rica: Settling Into the Every Day
Living in Costa Rica - Three Year Update
Living in Costa Rica: Three Year Update
Applying for Residency in Costa Rica Without a Lawyer
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74 Comments

  1. This is so great to hear! I was 7 months pregnant when we first visited CR and everyone treated me so nicely. Even at the airport, they let me cut the line for security which was sweet and unexpected. I even had a Tico come up to me in Manuel Antonio advise me that Tico women do not drink coconut water fresh from the coconut as they don’t know what kind of bacteria might be in it, after he saw me drinking from one. I don’t know the validity of that, but I stopped drinking it just in case. 🙂

    I’m glad to hear that you are having good experiences with the health care so far as it’s definitely one of my concerns for moving there next year.

    1. Hi Marianne, The Ticos have been so great, I’m not at all surprised to hear you were given priority at the airport and given the warning about fresh coconut water. I’ve never heard that myself but it makes sense. Thanks for reading!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story, we are also moving to Costa Rica soon. Could you please share with me the doctor’s name you were seeing. Thank you.

      1. Hi! I was wondering if you could send me the name of your doctor as well! I’ve been looking in San Jose but I’ll be closer to San Isidro and am very keen on a doctor who encourages natural birth.

        Thank you!

      2. Congrats on your 2nd birth! I know this post is from a while ago, but I also am hoping to know who your wonderful doctor was in San Isidro. My son and his fiancee are expecting in October and we will be moving to CR at the end of august, but first coming for a research trip in a few weeks, and we would love to meet the doc.

  3. Congrats Matt and Jenn! And thanks so much for sharing this! In the same boat (Dominical area) and the fact you found a great Dr in SI is wonderful news. Any chance you could share their name, either here or via email?

    Thanks again!

  4. Hello Jenn and Matt,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. My husband and I just moved to Costa Rica and are living near Dominical too. I am 2 months pregnant and would love to know the name of the doctor you used who sounds wonderful. Reading your post really helped give me confidence that I can have a great birth experience here!

    Congratulations on your sweet baby!

  5. I’m happy that you shared your experience with us. I plan on moving to Costa Rica soon, currently pregnant and were looking at different options on how to go about giving birth when i get there. thanks for sharing your experience with us. would you mind sharing the information of the doctor also please ? because i will be looking once arrived

  6. Hi guys! Thank you for providing all the resources! I am wondering if you could comment on traveling to CR while pregnant. I will be 29 weeks in February and we want to take a babymoon in CR. The main concern is Zika. How are the mosquitos there during that time? Thank you!

  7. We’re planning to travel to Costa Rica in the San Isidro de el General area (Quizarra) for the months of March and April for a housesit. I’ve been reading all your pregnancy posts, packing posts, and zika info and scouring the internet for info on zika and dengue. I’ll be about 12 weeks pregnant when we arrive in Costa Rica. I’d love to hear more about the weather at that time of year and how that might affect mosquitoes in that region. I find it reassuring seeing comments of others who are in Costa Rica and pregnant as well as I keep wondering if we’re crazy to not change our plans. I’d also love it if you emailed me the info to the doctor or health info in San Isidro de el General in case anything arose where I needed support or medical advice while I’m there. Yikes!!!

    1. Hi Leisha, March/April is dry season so there are fewer mosquitoes, but there are always some, unfortunately, due to standing water. The best resource to follow the trends in number of cases of Zika, Dengue, etc. is the Ministry of Health’s bulletins. Those show the change in number of cases week to week and also where the outbreaks are located. They actually just came out with a new bulletin for January that showed a rise in cases with some pregnant women being affected. The numbers are still really low when you consider the population as a whole but it is something to be aware of. We would recommend keeping an eye on the bulletins to see how the San Isidro area is being affected. Wish we had more positive news, but it is a concern if you are pregnant.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience! I just found out I am pregnant and my partner and I are currently are in Panama as we were previously in Costa Rica and are now trying to decide where we should settle with the baby based on doctors, medical, experience, etc. If we decide Costa Rica, which is it leaning that way we are thinking of somewhere in the Dominical area and would be so incredible grateful if you would be willing to share your doctors name that is in the SI area. Thank you and hope your family is doing well xo

    1. Hi Jenna, Congratulations on your pregnancy! I don’t know much about having a baby in Panama, but Costa Rica, and the Dominical area in particular, has been great for us. We have a wonderful organic farmers market nearby, the people are friendly, and it’s close to the beach and mountains. Best of both worlds. The only downfall is that San Jose is far if you need a bigger private hospital or certain kinds of English-speaking doctors (we go there for our son’s pediatrician). I’ll send you my doctor’s info by email. Take care!

      1. Hi Jenn and Matt,

        Thank you for the response! Yes, the more I am looking into the more Costa Rica looks like the right place for us. We really love the Dominical area so we are actually looking to settle in that area too:) When you say certain English-speaking doctors does that mean the doctor you went to did not speak english? I received your email so thank you so much!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing all this great info! we will be moving to Uvita in few months in the second pregnancy trimester. Could you please share the doctor contact information, we would really like to go to labor around the area as it is much less stressful than going all the way to SJ.

    Thanks alot!

  10. Hello, I enjoyed reading your article. I am visiting the San Isidro area for two months and learned I was pregnant the day before we left. Can you please email me your doctor’s name that you went to? Thanks.

  11. Jenn amd Matt, thank you so much for sharing your experience!
    My husband, I and our 3 months old baby will be moving to CR from Boston (Dominical – Ojochal area) in November. Could you please share how did you find a community for yourself and your baby? We are very social and a young couple and would love to find like minded people in the area. I was searching a meetup.com but I guess that website is not popular in CR because I could not find anything. You mentioned FB expat groups? Would you mind sharing them with us? We are so exited and cannot wait and your website has been such a wonderful resource to us!

    1. Hi Sasha, We live right in that area so should meet up when you get here! There are some local events where you can meet people. They do a lifeguard fundraiser every couple of months that draws a lot of younger expats. A bunch of restaurants do live music if your little one will let you go out at night (it is tough with ours right now, haha). You can find out about the different events on the Facebook groups. The main one for the Dominical to Ojochal area is Costa Ballena Bulletin Board. There’s also a new one with rentals that you might be interested in called CR Southern Zone Long Term Rentals.

  12. Hi, we are actually relocating to Costa Rica in 3 days. We will be living in Uvita. I am due to deliver in 5-6 weeks. A c section. I have heard good things about clinical labrador from friends that live there. I have read your posts and feel more comfortable about it. The hospital was Clinical Labrador? I am also interested in the private doctor at del general and was wondering if you could give me any more information (number, name of doctor) I would love to get in contact with that doctor specifically. Also would you be so kind to share places to stay near the hospital and the private doctors. We too will need to be there about a week early. We do not want to chance having the baby on the side of a windy mountain especially if im due for a c section. I hope that is not to much and I love that you were so kind to share your experience. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    1. Hi Savannah, I will send you an email with my doctor’s contact information. For your questions, yes, I delivered at Clínica Labrador, the private hospital in San Isidro. I would recommend touring it when you get here to get a better sense of what it’s like. As for hotels near the doctor/hospital, there are a few places with simple rooms right in the downtown. We stayed at Hotel Chirripo on the park and that was very close – we walked to the doctor’s office and hospital, and it was also nice because there were a lot of restaurants within walking distance too. Made things easier.

  13. Hey guys, thanks for your story. My wife and I are staying near San Isidro, and we just found out today that she is pregnant. Your doctor sounds great, could you send me his info? Thanks!

  14. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I am reading all your articles about having a baby in costa rica as a reference. I am 8 months and waiting for my delivery next month. I availed their caja health care for my pre-natal and it’s really a good service.
    I would like to ask about visa extension since I’m giving birth December which is also our expiration of our stay here, are we exempted not to cross the border to renew our stamp? Your response is highly appreciated. Thank you

    1. Hi Lee and Lyn, That’s great to know that you are having a good experience with the Caja for prenatal.

      I think you can get a visa extension for a medical reason (there is a process- you have to go to San Jose and I don’t think it’s easy). But I’m not sure that the likelihood of delivering is good enough. My due date fell around the time our visas were expiring so we just went to the border early. Early enough to make sure we didn’t have the baby in Panama too!

      1. Hi,
        Thank you for the info, it really gives us reference. We crossed the border to renew our stamp last week at Los Chiles Nicaragua border and we are happy that we don’t have to worry now about our visa expiration. This month, we are just waiting for our new angel to arrive. Merry Christmas to your family! 🙂

  15. Thanks so much for your blog post! It was the first I ran across while searching about pregnancy in CR. I just found out we have a bun in the oven as well! Could you please send me your doctor’s info, we live near San Isidro and he sounds like he’d be a good match for us. All the best to you and yours!

  16. Hi there! My name is Melissa, and my boyfriend, 8 month old daughter and I plan to move to Costa Rica before the end of this year. We are originally from the east coast as well, currently living in California! I am now 4 months pregnant. I am very interested in having a natural birth experience and would love if you could reach out with more information on your doctor and experience. Thank you so much in advance.

  17. I know it has been a while since baby 1 born, but could you email me your obgyn contact? Or have you heard of others that are recommended? Thanks!!

  18. Great, thanks so much! Sorry to bother again, but the contact info didn’t come through to my email… could you try again? So grateful for the insights.

  19. hi guys, great useful articles!
    we’ve been to CR 4 times and love it there. now that we’ve recently found out that I’m pregnant with our Second baby, my husband got this idea in his head of giving birth in Costa Rica )))
    During our trips we met a few pregnant women and american/canadian couples who gave birth there… all seemed to be very happy.
    As for me, I’m very concerned with Zika Virus… mosquitos love me((( so I’m not 100% sure about this decision..
    I read your articles/saw bulletins on Zika.. but still, Can you please give me an insight on what is the situation there now.. as locals who live there .. Have you met or heard of people who got this sickness (pregnant and/or not) …. Do local OBGYNs have any concerns.. I am due in May – which is wet season, and i assume there will be even more mosquitos..
    And can you please give me your doctor’s info…
    Thanks,

    1. Hi Veronica, Zika cases are really low this year and have been almost exclusively on the Caribbean side of the country. I am pregnant again actually and am not concerned with Zika. I do try to avoid insect bites, of course, though, because of other illnesses like dengue and leishmaniasis. Dengue is the most common but again, it’s down a lot this year and there haven’t been very many cases. Leishmaniasis is very uncommon but my husband Matt did somehow get it (see our 5-Year Update) and we know other people in our area who have had it as well. It isn’t in too many areas of the country but can be sound in the Southern Pacific. Not to scare you…we didn’t change our family planning but I’m just careful with wearing repellent and taking precautions. I’ll send you the doctor info now.

    1. Hi Jenn, my husband and I are planning a Costa Roca trip in November. I’m 4 month pregnant now and would like to ask you about the current Zika / Dengue / Malaria situation in CR. Many thanks in advance, Dalma

      1. Hi Dalma, You should read our post all about Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya in Costa Rica. Here’s the link. At the bottom of that page are some resources. One is a link to the government website where you can find fairly current information about cases in CR. In general, Zika is very low and Malaria is almost unheard of. Zika is really only a problem on the Caribbean coast and Caribbean slope (places like Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and Guapiles) so avoid those areas. Dengue can be anywhere but the number of cases is still fairly low this year (it has been trending down over the last several years). When I was pregnant earlier this year and last year, I wore long pants and had mosquito shirts for when I was out in a buggy area. I’d recommend getting some of those. Here’s a link to our Mosquito Protection Clothing article. Lots of pregnant ladies here, though, without any problems so as long as you follow some precautions, you should be fine!

  20. Hello! My husband and I are planning to give birth in CR and it was really great to read about your experience. Could you send me the name of your doctor? Thanks!

  21. Hello, I love all your articles. We are also new in Costa Rica we live in Platanillo, and are looking into starting a family of our own in the near future. Do you think I can have your doctors information as well? Thank you!

  22. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I’m so glad to stumble onto your blog. I just found out I’m pregnant and I’m living in San Isidro de El General. Can you please give me the name of the doctor you saw here? I would really appreciate it.

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