In our first post about having a baby in Costa Rica, we shared our experience with prenatal care. We covered public vs. private healthcare, and how we picked our doctor and decided where to deliver. Now that baby Sam has arrived, we’ll talk about the next phase in the adventure: the birth. We’ll explain what it was like to have a baby at a small private hospital in Costa Rica. We’ll also go through what we were worried about as foreigners having a baby in another country and how the actual delivery experience compared.
Getting Ready for the Birth
Before I delve into our story, you should know some background about the type of birth experience I wanted. It was our first child, so honestly I didn’t really know what I was in for. But after reading lots of websites and watching videos, I decided I wanted a natural birth to the extent possible. I didn’t want interventions like induction and wanted to try it without pain medications. I hadn’t originally planned on a water birth, but after talking to a woman in the waiting room at my doctor’s office who said it really helped with the pain, I changed my mind eight months into the pregnancy and decided I’d like to try it.
Some of the things I was most worried about were Matt not being allowed to be with me during the delivery, something that is common in public hospitals in Costa Rica, and being given medication like oxytocin to induce the labor to go faster. I had heard from someone who had given birth at Clinica Labrador, the private hospital in San Isidro del General where I was going, that there had been one especially pushy nurse who had insisted on giving her oxytocin when her labor wasn’t progressing fast enough. Having read about the importance of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding in the moments after delivery, I was also worried that the baby would get taken away soon after the birth.
There were several things about the hospital that I had concerns with too. I wasn’t sure what the facilities would be like and how difficult it would be to communicate with the nurses who probably only spoke Spanish. My Spanish is getting better but I don’t know medical terms and didn’t want to deal with being unable to communicate when making important medical decisions. Finally, I had heard about how some hospitals have policies about the number of hours you can be in labor before a C-section is required and wondered if the hospital would be able to override my doctor’s and my decision to wait for labor to progress on its own.
What I found extremely beneficial to putting my mind at ease was talking through these issues with my doctor in advance. During office visits in the months leading up to my due date, he assured me that he would be making all the decisions about my care (with my involvement, of course) and that the hospital wouldn’t be able to override him to force a C-section or other intervention. He told me that pain medication, including an epidural, would be available to me if I decided that I needed it and that he could perform a C-section if it became necessary. Something that really helped to put me at ease was when he told me that I wouldn’t go to the hospital right away when my labor began. Instead, he would check me out in his office and we wouldn’t go to the hospital until the labor progressed significantly—and we would go together. That made me feel a lot better. He also told me that at Clinica Labrador, men were able to be present during the delivery so Matt could stay with me the entire time.
My doctor also encouraged us to go to the hospital for a tour and talk to the head nurse. As I explained in our first post, I really wanted to keep my doctor for delivery because I was so comfortable with him and his medical ideology, which favored natural births. That meant that I needed to like Clinica Labrador, as he didn’t do deliveries at the other private hospitals in Costa Rica like Cima in San Jose. Luckily, our tour of Clinica Labrador went great. The head nurse was so kind and approachable, and actually reminded me of my grandmother. I felt very comfortable around her, and although she spoke only Spanish, she talked in such a way that she was very easy to understand.
After telling her how far along I was and a little about my pregnancy, she walked us through the different rooms we would be in for the different stages of delivery and showed us the room where we would sleep. We learned that we would all be able to sleep in the same room, Matt on the futon and the baby in a bassinet in between us.
After speaking to the nurse, we went over costs and other paperwork with the receptionist. He spoke English fluently, which was very helpful. We learned that a natural delivery would cost ₡615,000 (about $1,230), a delivery with an epidural would cost ₡740,000 (about $1,480), a water birth would cost ₡690,000 (about $1,380), and a C-section would cost ₡800,000 (about $1,600). This was the hospital fee only; our doctor’s fee of $1,600 was separate. Included in this price was care during the first 24 hours from the time we checked in. This was standard no matter what kind of birth you had, even a C-section, and seemed crazy to us. Matt and I decided that if I wasn’t ready to leave within that time frame, we would just stay longer given that the costs were so reasonable.
I won’t go into all the details of our long birthing story, but here’s an overview. Sam decided to take his time to come into the world. Despite everyone’s theories that I would go into labor a few days after my due date, then when that didn’t happen, around the time of the full moon, I ended up being two weeks late. I had few signs of labor and was scheduled to be induced 12 days after my due date. Other than being tired, I felt great and was very excited to have the baby.
Sure enough, in the early morning on the scheduled day of my induction, I started to go into labor on my own. I had regular contractions and decided that we should go to San Isidro to be closer to the hospital since we lived 45 minutes away. I had heard lots of stories about how fast labor can progress and the last thing I wanted was to deliver a baby on the side of a curvy mountain road. Knowing what I know now, I had plenty of time. I ended up being in labor for a very long time.
During my two plus days of labor, Matt and I stayed at a hotel in downtown San Isidro and would check in with the doctor throughout the day. Despite having painful contractions that occurred regularly, my labor was still progressing rather slowly. The contractions continued day and night and the pain made it very difficult to eat and sleep. My doctor thought it wouldn’t be long until I had the baby and I still wanted a natural birthing experience so we continued on like this for a couple of days. Although I was in a lot of pain, I felt okay because I had great care. Whenever something came up, Matt would send the doctor a text message and he would get back to us, telling us whatever symptom I was experiencing was normal or to come to his office. In the middle of the night, he also came to check on me at the hotel, which was amazing. He brought a portable heart monitor to check on the baby and make sure everything was okay with me.
After two days of being in labor, I was feeling very weak from not eating much, tired from not sleeping, and very emotional about this baby not coming. We went into the doctor’s office that morning and things still hadn’t progressed much despite all the contractions. At that point, I decided I wanted to be induced. I knew that I would need energy for the delivery and couldn’t go on like that for days longer. So that afternoon, I went to the hospital for an induction and couldn’t have been happier. It was somewhat ironic that I was so happy to be induced. As I said, I had originally wanted a natural delivery with no interventions, but all that changed after enduring two days of labor. Now I understand why people always say to have a birthing plan but to be flexible because you never know what is going to happen.
The nurse hooked me up to the IV for the induction and helped me with breathing techniques to get through the contractions. She was wonderful, very calming, and present when I needed her, but not too involved at the same time. The induction progressed perfectly and they moved me into the tub to start pushing just a couple of hours later. I wasn’t sure what I would think about the water birth, but it ended up being a great experience. The warm water seemed to really help with the pain and made me more relaxed. I think I pushed for around an hour before finally meeting baby Sam.
After Sam was born, he was quickly checked out by the pediatrician. The doctor then put him on my chest, and let us spend almost a full hour with him, just the three of us. It was a magical experience that Matt and I will never forget. It was our doctor who pushed for this time together after the birth. It seemed that the hospital staff was antsy to take Sam for more care, but our doctor didn’t let that happen.
Overall, I had a great birthing experience at Clinica Labrador and highly recommend it. The facility wasn’t state of the art by any means, but was more than adequate. It was clean and comfortable, and I felt like I was in good hands with the head nurse, who was obviously very experienced.
There were some less-than-desirable parts of the experience, of course. I had some complications after the birth and lost a lot of blood, but my doctor was wonderful throughout the process and very reassuring. He even made a house call to check on me the day after we left the hospital.
A couple of things to note about the hospital in general for anyone thinking about delivering there: Although the staff was supportive of breastfeeding in general, they encouraged formula as well. Several times when Sam was crying in our room, a nurse would barge in, saying that the baby was hungry and trying to give him formula despite the fact that he was nursing fine. Something else to keep in mind is that most of the nurses at Clinica Labrador only spoke Spanish. Between the two of us, Matt and I were able to understand most of what they were saying, but if you don’t speak any Spanish, it would be difficult. The last thing that could have made the experience better was support for breastfeeding. This might have depended on who was working that day, but no one helped me with breastfeeding when I was first starting. Luckily, though, I had spent a lot of time learning about it in advance and Sam got it right away so it went smoothly.
So that’s our experience giving birth in Costa Rica. If you’re planning on having a baby in Costa Rica yourself and have a question, post it below and we’ll do our best to answer it.
Looking for more information about starting a family in Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
- Having a Baby in Costa Rica: Part 1 – Our first post about our experience having a baby in Costa Rica. Focuses on prenatal care and why we chose to have a private doctor and deliver at a private hospital.
- Buying Baby Stuff in Costa Rica – Info on cost of baby gear in Costa Rica and where to find it.
- La Leche League: Costa Rica has a La Leche League, which provides support for breastfeeding mothers. There are local groups all around the country. Find more info here.