Giving Birth In Vilnius, Lithuania: An Expat's Experience
Lately I've received several emails from mothers-to-be who are (excitingly!) planning to give birth in Vilnius and seeking more information than what I shared here and here. I love getting emails from readers, but since I've been getting such a large volume of emails, I also wanted to post an FAQs here on In Search Of based on my own personal experience with prenatal, birth, and postnatal care in Vilnius, Lithuania. I've also talked about breastfeeding in Lithuania here if you're looking for information on that.
First, let me start with the usual caveat: that the information in this post directly draws on only my own experiences, and obviously each birth is different. I gave birth at the Baltic American Clinic in Vilnius, Lithuania in August 2015 after a normal, healthy pregnancy. Almost all of my prenatal care was at the Baltic American Clinic, except two appointments with my fav. naturopath when I was in the US in late June and early July.
Where should I go to the dentist?
In a previous post, I mentioned the holistic approach to maternity care in Vilnius, in that I was required to have both a dental and eye doctor appointment prior to giving birth. The dentist that I personally recommend is Odontika in Uzupis. They are super responsive to making appointments, the costs aren't exorbitant for a cleaning, and the care is excellent--my father-in-law even had heavy dental work with implants and bridges done while visiting us.
Where should I go to the eye doctor?
My eye exam at Optika Rega on Pilies street was standard as far as eye exams go. The doctor speaks English, the prices are fine, and the staff are super helpful when it comes to getting prescriptions.
Genetic and blood glucose testing?
I didn't have to have genetic or blood glucose testing because my pregnancy was normal and I was under 30 while pregnant. They do offer all necessary tests, but in my experience the doctors consider pregnancy a natural condition and don't over request testing.
When should I go to the clinic/hospital?
My gynecologist at Baltic American Clinic told me to head to the clinic right when contractions started. She preferred me laboring in the clinic where she could monitor the progress and administer an epidural if needed.
Who to call when you go into labor?
I called my gynecologist before leaving home and she met me at the clinic.
What should I bring with me?
Before giving birth, I had only a vague idea about what might be needed for a hospital bag, so I went down a serious YouTube hole (I like Ruth Crilly's suggestions) and packed a lighter version, with simple clothes and personal care items for me, my son, and some snacks. Some items, like diapers, maternity pads, mesh underwear, hospital gowns, and basic toiletries, are available for you to use.
What happens if you go into labor early (before 38 weeks)?
The doctors at the Baltic American Clinic split time between BAC and public hospitals in the city to allow for excellent care for all. As my doctor was split part-time between Baltic American Clinic and Antakalnio Poliklinika, which has a prenatal unit, I was informed that if I went into labor before 38 weeks, I was to deliver at Antakalnio Poliklinika with the same gynecologist. I still would have had to arrive when contractions started and labored at the hospital, but I wouldn't have had the option to have a private room, as I did at BAC.
What if you need/want a C-section?
The Baltic American Clinic has emergency care and surgeons on standby if needed. I actually had to be prepped for a C-section as the doctors wanted to be ready as my son was estimated to be pretty large (I was 38 weeks along when I gave birth) and he became distressed when my labor progressed (turns out his arm was up over his head and his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and arm). I ended up not needing a C-section, but it was an option and I would have simply been brought to another floor.
How about an epidural?
My doctor told me that most women in Lithuania opt to have an epidural when giving birth. I wasn't required to decide one way or another beforehand, and I did elect to have an epidural during labor. Once I had an epidural, I wasn't allowed to get up and walk around (though I wouldn't have wanted to), though they keep the epidural drugs to an absolute minimum, letting the drugs almost completely wear off at the time when you need to push. Probably TMI, but when you have an epidural, a catheter is used to relieve your bladder, although at BAC, a catheter is not left in, only periodically inserted.
How modern is the equipment/rooms?
I can't compare giving birth in Vilnius to the US, but the equipment all appeared to be state of the art.
How about a birth plan?
Remember how I said that giving birth is considered a natural condition? I think this also comes into play with a birth plan--I honestly think my doctor would have rolled her eyes if I had said anything about a birth plan. I didn't want one, nor did I have one, and I'm still not really sure what a birth plan even is.
How relaxing is the atmosphere?
Well, I didn't find labor and giving birth particularly relaxing, but the Baltic American Clinic was quiet, all of the doctors and nurses were kind, and the whole stay was very private.
Are their ice chips?
Nope. Bring your own water and snacks. I wasn't allowed to drink anything while I was in labor, but I'm guessing that that might be due to the doctors thinking I might need a C-section.
What doctors are in the room while giving birth?
I felt that the atmosphere was pretty quiet, with only the necessary doctors present when they were needed. There were about five doctors in the room during my delivery, but the doctors came in and out during my labor.
What are the recovery rooms like?
When recovering from giving birth at the Baltic American Clinic, you are allowed to stay for approximately three days and have the choice between two rooms: the standard room (our choice) and the upgraded room. The standard room is private, has two beds, a changing/sleeping area for the baby, a private bathroom, and a rocking chair. The upgraded room is massive, with ample space to entertain visitors, a private bathroom, and other special details.
What is the food like?
I thought the food was delicious and pretty standard Lithuanian fare of soups, porridge, and meat with potatoes. On our last night, we were treated to a small bottle of sparkling wine and chocolates.
How are the nurses/midwives?
The midwives were so sweet! The two or three midwives we met spoke Lithuanian and Russian (though I felt as though we could communicate fine) and were clearly experienced with taking care of new mothers and infants. My favorite midwife even gave us a container of formula, as my milk hadn't yet come in, and sent us home with a blanket since we didn't think to bring one as it was August. She accompanied me to an appointment a few weeks later with Baby ISO, which was made to check for hip dysplasia (it seems to be standard to check in Europe) and for Baby ISO to receive a newborn vaccination that they had run out of at the time of his birth. She also provided us with the contact information for a wonderful pediatrician at Alfa Clinic who could speak English and made house calls.
Does everyone speak English/should I know Lithuanian or Russian?
No, nor would I expect everyone to speak English. Jeremy and I knew limited Lithuanian and we both felt comfortable communicating, though sometimes we definitely relied more on body language. My gynecologist spoke fluent English, the OB on call spoke some English, the anesthesiologist spoke fluent English, and the pediatricians, nurses, and midwives spoke little to no English. I do suspect that at least some of the staff also speak Russian to varying levels of fluency. All paperwork we had to read and sign was in English and Lithuanian.
6 week checkup?
I had a normal 6 week checkup with my regular gynecologist.
One of the most common questions I've had about giving birth at the Baltic American Clinic in Vilnius was about the cost. I was very lucky as I had good private health insurance and the birth and almost all maternity care was covered in full. I found our claim and coverage information and in 2015, the cost for a normal birth and three day stay at Baltic American Clinic was almost exactly 10,000 EUR or 11,000 USD. Just for comparison, the costs in the U.S. vary drastically depending on the state, but might cost an average of 13,000 to 32,000 USD (varied sources report different averages, here's one interesting report on childbirth and maternity care in the U.S.).
As always, feel free to leave a comment below with more questions or shoot me an email if you need the details to a personal question!