expat life // an american pregnancy in london

While I’ve shared plenty about my travel experiences while pregnant, I haven’t written too much about my actual pregnancy. Mainly because, well, this is a travel blog, and pregnancy isn’t particularly travel-related. My experiences with pregnancy in London, however, has been greatly influenced by my life as an American expat.

Pregnancy, especially for first-timers, is already a learning experience. Doing it in a new country — with different resources and without the same support network you’d have at home — adds a whole new layer of “WTF am I DOING?”

SO, with fellow Americans in mind, I thought maybe a quick round-up of things I learned over the past 10+ months, from the start of my pregnancy to Margot’s big arrival, would be helpful.

maternity - flytographer[ photo via jackie king for flytographer ]

The birth options are endless.

The actual birth logistics confused us from the start. Where, how, with whom?! Basically, we had two options.

The National Healthcare System | The NHS

My first resource was this post on the NHS website, detailing the public (free) options. The midwife-led birth centres appealed to me the most, but I didn’t love that:

  1. If you have the slightest complication, they’ll move you to the hospital.
  2. Post-birth, with any NHS option, you might share a dorm-style set-up with up to 6 other moms and their newborns. Private rooms are available for a fee, but most people I spoke with didn’t end up getting them — either due to availability or exhaustion. The entire thing made me anxious.
Private Care

If you don’t go through the NHS, you can go private. This can be very expensive (think £8k+), unless, of course, you have private insurance. We do, and once we found out that it fully covers private births, my NHS research stopped pretty quickly. Our closest private hospital is The Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s, so our choice was easy. Lindo is all consultant-led, and consultants here = OB/GYNs. This means you have a dedicated consultant who sees you through your entire pregnancy.

Consultants accept a limited number of patients, spaced out by due date, so naturally, you’re encouraged to book them ASAP. Ours was able to ensure us from the start (barring extreme emergencies) that he would be with us on the day of the birth. Alternatively, through the NHS, patients see whatever midwives are on staff that day. We also had a few more tests, scans and check-ups than we would have through the NHS, which gave this paranoid first-timer lots of reassurance.

Midwives are your everything.

During labor, in both the private and public systems, midwives are the most important players. Unless he or she is needed sooner, the consultant really only comes in for the final stages and the actual delivery. This confused me, because honestly, the word “midwives” just makes me think of Civil War-era homebirths, but here, they’re like a mix between nurses, doctors and temporary moms.

margot - hospital pic

chilling in our private suite, nbd

Postnatal care is in your own private room with dedicated midwives, and it all feels a bit spa-like. My consultant did stop by the next morning to see how I was feeling, and I’ll have my 6-week check-up with him, rather than my GP.

Choosing a consultant was a bit overwhelming, but Lindo sent me a full list of options that I cross-referenced on Netmums and Mumsnet (super creative, Brits), before emailing a handful for more info. In the end, we only met with one in person and ended up going with him. I can now say that he was the absolute best, so if you need a recommendation, let me know.

Fair warning: with lots of options comes LOTS of opinions. If you’re up in the air, feel free to reach out with any questions about going private. I have a lot more I could share on the subject based on my experience, which I’m more than happy to do off le blog.

The postnatal care is amazing.

Whether you go public or private, starting on day 5, you have a community midwife who comes to your home regularly to check on both you and the baby over the first two weeks. You can also request a breastfeeding consultant (which we did, because why not?), and on day 10, a health visitor comes. This person will check on your baby regularly for his or her first five years.

We also have the added benefit of postnatal support from one stinky pug, who seems to enjoy his new buddy.

margot & the bug

[ photo via jackie king ]

I’ve heard some negative stories, but we lucked out and everyone was amazing — sweet, supportive, and only offered advice when asked. It was so reassuring to talk to a medical professional in our own space during those first days when we were a constant ball of “are we doing this right?!” and “is this normal??” worries.

Also. Breastfeeding is hard and stressful at first, so I’d pay someone to come over and give me words of encouragement. To have the NHS offer that for free? You get on board with this, America. All moms deserve it.

Take an NCT class.

Everyone told us to sign up for an antenatal NCT class, but they left out one fact: these classes are solely for making local friends, not for learning invaluable information about pregnancy, birth, and, you know, taking care of a baby. As soon as we got that idea in our heads, we enjoyed it MUCH more.

NCT-trained volunteers run the classes, often out of their homes. Our teacher, as kind as she was, wasn’t the most, um, empowering. While passing around disks demonstrating exactly what 10 cm looks like, she explained that the pain will make us feel like we’re being torn apart from the inside. AND YET, she was still extremely, extremely anti-epidural.

NCT dads

I didn’t get their permission for this, but even with the blur, you can still tell Jeff’s fellow dads are RIVETED by the hubs’s presentation on the birth canal.

The plus side? It’s great to have a group of new parents all going through pregnancy at the same time as us. Plus, our whatsapp group chats are FAR more insightful and helpful than Dr. Google.

…who I’m also not allowed to consult anymore anyway, so whatever.

Shop til you drop.

It’s true that babies don’t need much when you first bring them home — but that doesn’t mean it’s not really fun to buy everything in miniature! Our main issue was that we didn’t know where to go for the essentials, like a crib and a stroller (or a cot and a pram, as the mummies say).

margot's room

scenes from Margot’s nursery! mostly from graham & green; wooden animals from pedlars
[ photos via jackie king ]

Here’s where we spent most of our sterling on lazy baby:

Mamas & Papas | We had a free in-store consultation here, and price-shopped elsewhere after. You can do that guilt-free in the UK, by the way, because they don’t have sales commission here (though we did get a few things here anyway).

John Lewis (and Peter Jones) | I have such a love/hate relationship with John Lewis, but I can’t deny the convenience. I prefer shopping at Peter Jones, both because the layout is better and the insanity levels are lower than Oxford Street.

Huggle | We ended up here because they carry the Stokke bassinets, and I wish we’d known about them sooner. Dealing with Stokke’s shipping team in the Netherlands was a pain, but it was another resource that I appreciated and a good excuse to go to Primrose Hill for the afternoon!

Aside from baby stuff, I could only get by with shopping up a few sizes at Zara for so long. Unfortunately, maternity clothes are FRUMP.

a&j - cheval

Seraphine | For the quality, their stuff is pretty overpriced. However, I went here for a pair of jeans, over-the-bump leggings, and a winter coat. It was perfect for pregnancy staples.

Figleaves.com  | Free shipping and returns, lots of maternity and nursing options, and everything I got is stupid comfortable. I hate that their maternity brands have names like “Hot Milk” and “Mamalicious” because ew, but whatever. Comfort is key.

Topshop Maternity | My maternity-wear savior. Limited things with ruching (gross), and now, post-partum, everything I can still wear everything I bought! Even without a bump!

Tell the world there’s a baby on board!

Before I was really showing, fellow Londoners exclaimed, “You need a ‘baby on board’ pin!” Each time, I thought it was just something weird that people said to pregnant women… but no, no. Baby on Board pins are real and free and offered by the TFL. Obviously, they’re meant for women to wear throughout pregnancy in London to let other riders know they should be kind and give up their seats.

To be totally honest, I ordered one just for the novelty of ordering one. I don’t ride public transit during rush hour, so getting a seat is rarely a problem. Also, because Londoners notoriously do not look at one another on the tube, I have to wonder if they’re even that effective in the first place?

Have someone else find you a photographer.

Moving to a new city means limited resources, and because none of our friends here have needed a maternity photographer before, I wasn’t sure who to ask. I poked around online a few times, but I was consistently overwhelmed. When your only requirement is “NOT CHEESY,” Google doesn’t really deliver the goods.

After one too many websites full of photos of hand-hearts on bumps in cornfields (you know the ones), I realized that DUH, I didn’t need to find other personal recommendations — Flytographer already has access to some of the best photographers in London. We booked a 30 minute shoot, and as soon as we met Jackie, it was like hanging out with an old friend. Best of all, she didn’t ask Jeff to kiss my bare belly ONCE.

Obviously, it was a no-brainer to ask her to take our newborn photos, too.

jackie king photos

She came on Margot’s 11th day, and I cried when we got them on her 22nd. She’s already so much bigger!!!

(Being a parent makes you insane.)

Treat yo’self.

I took advantage of this last stretch of childless “me” time. I have no delusions that I’ll be this indulgent in future pregnancies… and it didn’t stop at three different prenatal massages.

prenatal yoga | It took a few yoga studios until I found one I loved. I saw Lolly Stirk weekly from weeks 20-33, when she went on holiday.  There’s a waiting list, so drop her a line early — she prefers moms to start around 20 weeks.

hypnobirthing | Lolly teaches a monthly pregnancy hypnobirthing class at Triyoga Chelsea, and it was perfect for Jeff and I to tackle together. After the 8-hour class, he said he felt like he just crammed for an exam he wanted to take immediately. At 31 weeks along, I was less enthused.

After, I downloaded Maggie Howell’s Hypnobirthing tape. Practicing before bed in those last few weeks was extremely relaxing. When we put it on during labor, however, I wanted someone to bring me Maggie Howell so I could crush her skull. Results may vary.

osteopathy | Osteopathy is a recommended alternative to the physio, and after my first appointment with Dr. Ferguson at The Notting Hill Osteopathic Practice, I felt like new. Best of all, our insurance covers both the physio and osteopathy! If you have insurance, be sure to check.

reflexology | A week before Margot arrived, one of the NCT moms suggested pregnancy reflexology with Helen Mead at The Life Centre. More sessions would have been good, but Margot showed up three days later!

Make a post-birth to do list.

Things we did immediately after Margot arrived:

  • Register her birth
  • Sort her American citizenship and passport (and get her passport photo! Thanks, Snappy Snaps)
  • Apply for her UK residency visa
  • Register her for preschool, because London is insane

Luckily, the hubs took these over, and handled everything. During the first two weeks, he just told me where to go and what to bring. Turning my brain off was a luxury, and it wouldn’t have been possible if he didn’t organize before she arrived.

And there you have it! Obviously, everyone is different, and I can only speak to my own experiences with pregnancy in London. But, I can say with confidence that I have no complaints. The postnatal support and maternity leave requirements are the most incredible and inspiring part of the British system.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to send an e-mail (info at the lazy travelers dot com). More than happy to discuss my consultant, the weird judgments about private births, whether or not gas & air even works, etc etc.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled, travel-focused programming!

xo!

the romantic

an american pregnancy in london

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12 Comments

  1. Karla
    February 11, 2016 / 13:55

    Congratulations again on Margot – so cute! It sounds like you had a great experience overall and I agree with you “get on board” comment wholeheartedly!

  2. February 12, 2016 / 23:27

    Congratulations on Margot!
    I had to laugh when I read the part about your experience with hypnobirthing: I have a good friend who shared a very similar story with me about it helping before the birth but not quite cutting it for her DURING the birth. Results may vary, indeed!
    Raphaelle recently posted..Large Intestine Health: Affected By Diet and EmotionsMy Profile

    • February 15, 2016 / 11:01

      i REALLY thought it would help in labor because i found it to be so, so relaxing when i tried it at home! but if that lady told me to picture myself on a goddamned beach during one more contraction… asdgldhjakjdhaskj
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..expat life // an american pregnancy in londonMy Profile

  3. Katherine Redo
    September 13, 2016 / 20:50

    Thank you for this blog. I’m moving to London in November and hope to have my 2nd baby in London. We’ll begin trying in December. I had a c-section with my first child here in Chicago and hope to have a c-section again (instead of vaginal birth) since I’ve already experienced it. Are c-sections common there or will they make me have a vaginal birth even though I’ve already been cut? Thanks in advance for your feedback.

    • September 14, 2016 / 04:43

      hi katherine! i have a friend who had an elective c-section through the NHS, and it did require some persistence on her part (this was her first baby), but they eventually agreed. i believe she had to go through some counseling so the midwives could feel confident she understood the differences in recovery for her & baby, but in the end it wasn’t an issue. if you go private, then i’m sure your consultant would be happy to accommodate — especially because you’ve already had one. i hope that’s helpful!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..the lazy girl’s guide to choosing the perfect villaMy Profile

      • Katherine Redo
        September 15, 2016 / 16:09

        Thank you so much for your reply. We’re opting for the private insurance too. So, hopefully, that increases my chances of having a 2nd c-section. Thanks again. 🙂

  4. Paige Webster
    October 11, 2016 / 17:56

    Hi! My husband and I will likely be starting a family in England, too. We are both from the US, but luckily I have a UK passport since my dad was born in England! I’m curious why you need to get your daughter a UK residency visa when technically she is a British citizen and doesn’t need a visa? Did you get her both a UK and US passport? This has been one of the most helpful posts in figuring out how/what to do about starting our family in the UK. Thank you so much! 🙂

    • October 20, 2016 / 05:37

      i’m so glad you found it helpful!! unfortunately, margot isn’t technically a british citizen, because the UK doesn’t observe naturalization like the US — meaning, she doesn’t automatically have citizenship just because she was born here. surprisingly few countries do, which i never knew! instead, if we’re still here when she’s 5, she’ll apply for her british citizenship the same way we can after 5 years of residency. but lucky for you, it sounds like that won’t apply since your future baby will be considered british by birth! best of luck to you & your husband!! xox
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..style spotter // #LTgreekweek: mykonos editionMy Profile

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