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.
IMPORTANT NOTE (May 2020): This post is from when we had our first baby several years ago. We have since had a second baby and used a different doctor. We also delivered at a different hospital (a private hospital in San Jose instead of the small private hospital in San Isidro). We have a new article called Having a Baby at Hospital CIMA about our recent experience. We recommend reading it, since our perspectives have changed some.
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.
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.
Choosing a Private Doctor
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.
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 de El 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 de El 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.
Getting Ready for Delivery
Staying Local vs. Going to San Jose
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 Clinica Labrador (now Hospital Las Americas) 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.
Update: Since we wrote this post, the Labrador underwent a major renovation and is now called Hospital Las Americas. We have heard from people that the facility is much nicer now. If you’ve delivered at the new hospital, let us know how your experience was in the comments below.
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.
Last Updated: May 15, 2020
More Posts on Having a Baby in Costa Rica:
- Having a Baby in Costa Rica: Part 2 – What it was like delivering a baby at a small private hospital in Costa Rica.
- Having a Baby in Costa Rica: Part 3 – Focusing of the paperwork involved to get your baby’s birth certificate, passport, and more.
- Where to Buy Baby Stuff in Costa Rica – Best places to buy baby gear in Costa Rica without breaking the bank.
- Tico Times Articles: A Costa Rica online newspaper for expats, The Tico Times, has two very helpful articles about having a baby in Costa Rica. Here they are: Giving Birth Through Costa Rica’s Public Health Care System and West Side (Birth) Story: Isla arrives at CIMA.
- Pura Vida for Parents: Short e-book from a woman 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.
- Families with Children in the Central Valley – Awesome Facebook group with friendly expats living in Costa Rica with kids. This is a great place to ask specific questions about giving birth, schools, etc.
- 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.