I remember the first time we went to the pediatrician when August, our first, was born. It was within the first week of leaving the hospital, and it was our first excursion out of the house with the baby. It took us at least thirty minutes to get ready—we had to pack the diaper bag, get the baby dressed for the weather (it was winter), get me dressed in a comfortable-but respectable postpartum nursing outfit, make sure I had appropriate coverage to catch all the leaks from all the parts of my body, get the baby in the car seat, drive across town, wait in the waiting room, fumble to get the baby out and undressed, etc. I was exhausted for the rest of the day after all the effort.
Our second and third children were born in Sweden, and the first well visit after birth looked entirely different.
In Sweden, after a baby is born, you call the barnavårdscentral (child health center, abbreviated BVC) where you’d like them to be registered, and you arrange for the nurse to come to your house for the first visit! The nurse brings a scale to check the baby’s weight, a bottle of Vitamin D drops, and a ton of pamphlets and information for the new mom. She (it’s usually a woman) sits with you and asks questions about the birth, how you’re doing, how the family is doing, and answers any questions you might have. After a relaxed and calming visit, she takes her leave. When the nurse came to see Bing-Bong, I stayed in my pyjamas/house outfit for the whole visit.
It was fantastic.
No fussing to get out of the house with a newborn, no battling traffic or public transportation, no germy waiting rooms. It’s one of the wonderful ways that Sweden supports mothers, babies, and families.
Sweden has national health care, which covers medical costs for children up to age twenty. (Adults have a maximum annual out-of-pocket cost of about $120 for health care.) Instead of seeing a pediatrician at every visit in the early months, babies see their designated nurse at the BVC for routine visits and vaccines. The nurses do all the developmental checks and monitoring that our pediatrician back in the US did, and they spend more time with each family than pediatricians are generally able to in the US. At birth, around 4-6 weeks, and again at 6 months and 12 months, babies also see a pediatrician for further developmental assessments and to ensure that everything is fine.
We have found it to be a really wonderful system for our (healthy) family. We have enough time with our nurse to linger at each visit and ask any questions we have, and we have the confidence that the babies are being well cared for because they’re seen by both a nurse and a doctor at regular intervals. (We have about 9-10 scheduled visits in the first year, and are welcome to drop-in hours at the BVC if we want to be seen between scheduled visits.) The thing that’s hard to get used to is that you do NOT go to your nurse if the baby is sick! Only healthy kids are allowed into a BVC. If the baby is sick, s/he is taken to the family’s health center to be seen by a doctor there. Luckily, we haven’t had to do this yet—4.5 years in and we’ve avoided sicknesses that require treatment!
I know some European countries offer even more support for newborn babies and their moms, with multiple home visits to make sure everyone is doing well.
Photos by James.