Having a baby in Switzerland: An expatís experience

Published 2020-06-10 12:20

From the US to Switzerland: This young mom working in finance in Switzerland tells Expat.com about her experience having a baby abroad…

If you had told me years ago before moving to Switzerland that I would be giving birth in a foreign country without my family around, I would not believe it. It’s already a frightening thing to imagine leaving a home country, let alone establishing a family elsewhere that speaks a totally different language! 

Those might have been my reasoning for the lack of motivation to have a baby abroad, but that perspective has totally changed now that (you guessed it) I had my baby abroad. 

Living the Swiss Life

I moved to Switzerland in 2013, two years after my husband made the transition to this country after he found an employment opportunity with a prominent Swiss food making company.

He’s French so moving to Switzerland was not a huge transition for him especially when his company resides in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (Swiss romandy).

For me, however, it was a huge challenge as I lived in the United States where all my family and friends reside. I also had an equally promising career at age 26 and I just bought a house not so long ago. 

It was a huge decision that we had to make: either we continue to stay in a long-distance relationship or one of us has to move. 

So I did it. I made the decision that it’d be best if I take the leap of faith to move to a different country because it would first of all, be an experience of a lifetime, and second of all, it would just be temporary and we’ll leave if things don’t work out.

In the beginning it was like a honeymoon period living in Switzerland. I was discovering new places, new food, new people. Everything was sparkling and exciting. 

Then comes the discovery of both the good and the bad where I just couldn’t adapt myself into a completely new set of lifestyles. For example, instead of owning a car, I had to take public transportation because having a car in a city is way less convenient than taking the bus. 

On top of that, language was a huge barrier because learning French was excruciatingly difficult. As an English speaker, we never had to learn conjugation or feminine vs. masculine words. It was just all so different and hard to absorb in the first year.

But then, we started traveling within the country and around Europe, and that’s when I begin to love living in Switzerland because of its central location surrounded entirely by other countries (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and the less known Liechtenstein).

To put into perspective, we’ve been to Paris and Milan three times already in each city thanks to the convenient high-speed train that can take us there in about three hours. I could also elect to take a ferry across Lake Lemon (or internationally known as Lake Geneva) to small French towns like Evian or Thonon-Les-Bains in just 30 – 45 minutes. 

That’s how we caught the travel bug and since living together in Switzerland, my husband and I have visited 20 countries and over 60 cities. It has been an eye-opening experience and a fascinating journey that I’ll forever be grateful for.

Fast forward six years later, I worked in two international companies, got an MBA in a Swiss university, learned French, made friends with a broad spectrum of international background of people, and most recently and importantly, had my first baby.

Having A Baby Abroad

Things moved very quickly after my husband and I found jobs in our respective fields and busy finishing our MBA’s. The plan of staying for two years became four additional years. Then, something magical happened in the mist of our busy schedule, we had a baby!

When I learned that I was pregnant, my husband was still taking his MBA courses while working full-time. I was also employed so moving back to the U.S. at that time was out of the question. 

So we had to prepare ourselves for what’s to come. This includes finding an OBGYN (obstetrician/gynecologist), deciding on which hospital to delivery birth, looking up daycare information, learning about healthcare, and so on. 

But luckily, the experience was much better than I had imagined when I discovered the family-friendly community that Switzerland offers.

Eight Reasons Why Switzerland May Be the Best Place to Start A Family

1. World class public hospitals and medical service

The biggest worry I had was the service and facility in hospitals while I go for check-ups and of course, the big delivery day. 

However, all of my worries faded after my first meeting in CHUV (or the Lausanne University University). Even though it’s a public hospital here in Canton Vaud, it is a reputable one with excellent services. 

What amazes me is the level of care I received such as meeting with the midwife who gave me a tour of the delivery room and took notes of my needs. She also referred me to different services available as well as explained to me the basic insurance coverage for maternity in Switzerland.

Of course, her English was limited, but she really tried to slow down while speaking French so that I could understand and ask questions. Luckily, I knew a bit of French to get me through it.

Another thing that I really appreciated was that the OBGYN not only cared about my physical health but also mental health. They made sure that I was okay and listened about my stress at work. 

It’s very comforting to know that the aspect of mental health is being taken seriously, because postpartum depression is no joke. I had a friend who experienced it and it led to her tragic death. Ever since that incident, I would never place anything above my health and the health of my baby during pregnancy and beyond. 

Finally, during delivery, I was given the utmost professional care possible where every nurse was so helpful and attentive to my needs. The doctors (I had two) could speak fluent English and they made sure I was comfortable and stress-free even though I was at a high risk of infection due to long hours of water breakage. 

2. Basic health insurance covers 100% prenatal costs

Even with basic health insurance, which cost about $320/month, the maternity cost is fully covered. Benefits kick in starting the 13th week of pregnancy all the way up till delivery plus eight weeks following birth. 

This means that I did not have to pay any copay for check-ups and delivery. The only out-of-pocket medical cost was the prenatal vitamins I took during my pregnancy. 

In addition, the basic insurance covered physical therapy sessions where I got prenatal massages up to 12 sessions. It also covered midwife services who comes to your place every week for up to 12 weeks which included pregnancy care and postpartum check-ups.

Another huge cost that’s included in this basic insurance coverage was related to breastfeeding. This covers the purchase of a breast milk pump up to $340 in value and three breastfeeding consultations which cost $100/session. 

This equates to over $600 of cost to support breastfeeding moms. Breastfeeding was not an easy journey for me, but I persevere knowing the important benefits it brings for my baby. Having support on this matter really makes huge difference.

3. Paid maternity leave

Switzerland offers 14 weeks (or the equivalent of 98 days) of paid maternity leave. My employer offered an additional two weeks bringing my total maternity leave package to 16 weeks at 100% of my salary. 

This is great because I was able to free myself of financial worries so that I can focus on bringing a healthy baby to the world. 

On top of paid maternity leave, I took two months of paid sick leave prior to delivery date as prescribed by my doctor. This is fully covered by the sick leave policy and it does not affect my maternity leave as it starts only after I deliver.

This policy is dramatically different from the one in the U.S. where we do not have a mandatory paid maternity leave policy.

4. Breastfeeding is widely supported (even in stores and restaurants)

Breastfeeding plays an important role in a baby’s development as every mom’s breast milk is uniquely composite to fit her baby’s needs. 

It’s like magical food produced through my boobs! 

In Switzerland, breastfeeding is widely supported. I have never had anyone approached me to tell me to cover up in public. I’m someone who is very conservative when it comes to lifting my shirt up in public, but breastfeeding has changed the way I see my body. It’s really just a wonderful food making machine!

5. Free family services

There are a variety of family services available for moms in Switzerland that are entirely free of charge. There are so many being introduced to me that I couldn’t possibly benefit from them all, but I will mention two that I had used and appreciated.

The first one is midwife consultation that is available in every “micro community” within a city. Mine happened to be just few buildings away from where my apartment that’s within five minutes of easy walk away. This service is set up to weight the baby and to answer questions we may have such as development milestone, breastfeeding, baby food, etc.

The second one is an open house made for stay-at-home moms (SAHM) and their children to come together in a playroom to socialize with each other. This place is founded by a psychologist in France who found that SAHM often experienced depression due to isolation from society. She founded the first “la maison ouverte” in her small French town and the concept has since spread to neighboring countries including Switzerland.

This is a wonderful story about community helping each other. It’s one of the things I admire most about living in Switzerland where parents are being supported in various ways.

6. Playgrounds and parks are ubiquitous

It’s not difficult to see that Switzerland is a children-friendly country because in almost every corner you will find a playground next to apartments or parks. In our quarter, we have four parks that is just right downstairs from our apartment. 

This makes calming a crying baby that much easier. We could just take a stroller and walk right outside. 

On top of that, these playgrounds and parks are always clean and well-maintained. This is largely contributed by the country’s value on cleanliness and I’ve found citizens who would pick up trash if it happens to cross their path (something that I subconsciously do now as well).

7. Favorable taxation

The income tax in Switzerland is structured in a way that is favorable for families with kids. Apparently, a couple would pay higher taxes than a single tax filer and would pay lower taxes if they have kids. This seems to me that Switzerland encourages married couples to have kids, but punishes those who doesn’t (in the form of higher taxation).

8. Monthly family allowance

If taxation is not enough of a clue that Switzerland encourages families to have children, there is also the family allowance.

The family allowance, or also known as the child allowance, is paid each month to parents who are employed, self-employed or unemployed – so basically everyone (with few rare exceptions). 

The amount of the allowance varies from canton to canton (similar to state in the U.S.). In our canton, we get a monthly allowance of $300 per child age 0 – 16 and $350 per child age 16 – 25 (assuming 1:1 USD/CHF parity). Yup, that’s $57,600 till age 16 and $37,800 till age 25 making a whopping sum of $95,400/child if we stay in Switzerland.

So far, we have been spending on average of $378/month for the baby’s first six months, meaning at this rate, our net spending would be less than $100/month. Nice!

But, It May Be Harder for Working Moms

The downside to having a baby in Switzerland is that it’s very difficult for working moms. 

Like the taxation situation where singles pay lower taxes than a couple without any children, this shows Switzerland is still a traditional country that doesn’t necessary support working moms.

To exacerbate the matter, it’s an extremely tiresome process to find childcare. One would not be able to enroll her child in daycare immediately as there is limited number of spots available. It is not uncommon to have a wait list period of up to a year.

Furthermore, childcare services are very expensive which could cost between $2,000-$3,000 per month. This is only for public ones where private childcare could cost the north of $3,000 per month.

Therefore, many moms who have two or more kids would most likely elect to stay at home, and those with one kid must decide on the economics of staying at home vs. going back to work.

A Happy Surprise

It’s no surprise that having a baby takes a lot of energy, resources, and mental strength while raising her pushes that boundary even more. 

It becomes even more difficult if there is limited or lack of support in a society that offers zero maternity leave paid days, charges absurdly high medical and insurance cost, and shames breastfeeding in the public – which are all (sadly) prevalent cases throughout the U.S.

Even though our families aren’t with us, Papa Bear and I were both pleasantly happy to have our baby abroad thanks to a fully supportive system that encourages parenthood.

I’m especially satisfied with my experience dealing with the doctors, nurses and midwifes during my pregnancy and delivery, as well as postpartum. It wouldn’t have been the same if Switzerland did not have such an efficient system where parents are supported in every way possible to have a child (healthcare, economic factors, and a family-oriented community).  

Looking back, taking that leap of faith to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone besides my husband was the second-best decision I’ve made in my life. (The first being married to my husband, of course.)

If anyone would have asked if I would possibly consider having a baby abroad before moving to Switzerland, my quick (and naïve) response would have been a huge NO. But after this awesome experience, my response would be a gargantuan (and forever grateful) YES!