While during this whole pregnancy in Italy, I have tried to share a bit of my experience. But while figuring it out I realized, as usual, things differ from region to region, hospital to hospital. So as I come to the end of my own pregnancy I wanted to share this post with all the straightforward answers to your questions about being pregnant in Italy.
Obviously I have given as much information as I can but you will have to ask your local Consultorio or doctor for certain exams, as different regions cover different things in their healthcare. But I hope this at least eases your mind and brings you some answers!
Where can I buy a Pregnancy Test in Italy?
You can find a pregnancy test at a few supermarkets but it is more common that you will get one OTC at a pharmacy. If you don’t see them on the shelves, just ask.
Ok, I found out I am pregnant, now what!?
Well now you have the choice to consider if you want to keep it or not, either way, you’ll want to get an appointment with your local Consultorio Familiare. However, if you are not on the Italian socialized healthcare, in that case, you will need to set an appointment with a private gynaecologist. You can find one who speaks English if you need to use doctorsinitaly.com.
If you are leaning towards not continuing the pregnancy, head to this blog here to see what the procedure is for an abortion in Italy.
Instead, if you are considering continuing, keep reading for some more quick answers!
Do I have to go to the Consultorio Familiare? What will the first appointment be like?
So if you do have the Tessera Sanitaria, going through the Consultorio Familiare will provide you with a nearly 0 cost pregnancy. They will pair you up with an “ostetrica” to follow you throughout, and if needed a gynecologist as well.
Instead, you always have the choice to go to a private gynecologist or ostetrica if you feel more comfortable. However, this will be at your own cost.
At your first appointment, you’ll probably go through a lot of your medical history, and that of the father. They’ll give a quick check on your blood pressure, weight, and cervix, and talk you through the first exams you will need to do.
Wait so an ostetrica follows me, not a gynecologist?
This depends if you go private, and how risky your pregnancy is. I learned late when pregnant in Italy that actually if you are low risk, and follow through the public healthcare system, you might see an actual gyno only once, maybe twice.
Even if you did go through a private gynecologist, during labor only the ostetrica will be present, unless there is a complication.
What exams are typical while pregnant in Italy?
Being pregnant in Italy looks a little different in every region, also depending on your age. Every region does cover the basic exams needed to keep track of how your pregnancy. Mainly these are blood tests every few months, urine tests every month or so, immunity tests for toxoplasmosis, and at least two ultrasounds.
You’ll also be covered for a glucose check if you have the risk of diabetes, a psychologist if necessary, and prenatal courses, as well as post-natal consultations with a lactation nurse and a doctor to check how you are.
Some regions will cover further exams such as a “Test Integrato” or DNA test to see the baby’s risk for genetic disorders.
When things are not covered by regional healthcare, your doctor still might prescribe you the exam, in which case you can take it for a small fee. Or you can always choose to go on your own for the exams and pay a private provider.
For example, I was not immune to certain cytomegalovirus (which I also had never heard of), and my doctor prescribed me blood tests to regularly check I was in the clear. For these, I paid only about 8€ each time.
On the other hand – the DNA test which would give us a clearer probability of risk of Downs Syndrome and other disorders, as well as tell us the gender early, was not covered at all. For this, I booked it privately and paid a few hundred. (Some regions cover this test for women over 35!)
Why choose a DNA test?
Choosing a DNA test is a completely individual decision, which you can skip if you are not comfortable with it. It can give you a clear probability of risk for numerous rare genetic conditions and disorders as well as let you know the gender of the baby ahead of time, if you wish.
The big reason for choosing it is that in Italy, you are allowed to terminate a pregnancy before the 21st week, if there is a condition or risk to the baby or yourself. Meaning if they find that there is a high risk of genetic or physical disorder, and you don’t feel ready for that, you are allowed to terminate.
Like I said this is a totally individual choice, but it is good to be aware of the timing when trying to decide to take it or not.
What is Italy like in terms of birth choices – “natural”, epidural, c-sections?
Italy is a big pusher on natural birth. However, there are at times options for an epidural and c-sections. While overall births do occur in a hospital, they are overseen by ostetrica, who also act as midwives, and do prefer to use drug-free pain relief like showers, movement, etc.
It is actually very rare to find an epidural in Italy, and if you know from the start you want it, research early on which hospitals in your area provide it. The reason for the lack of epidurals is not so much a philosophy (though many brochures in doctors’ offices lead me to think it is a bit), but rather due to a lack of staff.
In order to have an epidural, you’ll need to have blood tests done in advance, and then have an anaesthesiologist on call in the hospital during your labor. Most hospitals either don’t have one on call 24/7, or they might but they will be busy with other surgeries, so they can’t guarantee someone there for you during the moment.
Even if they can, you should know it is their choice to provide you with the epidural or not. In fact, many women have told me they had asked for it and were told they’d be fine anyway so didn’t get it.
As an alternative, you will find the laughing gas often used which can provide at least some relief.
When it comes to C-sections, most, but not all hospitals can perform them in an emergency (those that can’t send you to another as soon as they sense a risk). C-sections are not as much a choice but rather reserved for those who have a very difficult baby or one in the wrong position. If a problem is detected early enough and is extreme enough, they will schedule you.
But just through word-of-mouth asking women about their experiences being pregnant in Italy, it seems more often they wait and do emergency ones. There also doesn’t seem to be the choice to actively choose a c-section if your baby is perfectly healthy and in position.
Do I have to give birth in the hospital?
Not at all! In Italy, you do have the choice to give birth in your home, and there are supposedly a few birth clinics around if you’d like (I heard, but do not actually know of any at this moment!)
If you opt for it at home, make sure to talk to your ostetrica early so they can help you prep your home and make sure you have the right contacts for them to come to assist you.
Can I have a midwife instead?
Actually, ostetrica are both what we consider midwives and obstetricians! They have medical training more focused on exams and such but also are trained in creating a soothing and easy natural birth. Everyone you meet will be different. Some are super caring, others are a bit rough. You never know who you will get, but if you find one you love, be sure to ask if they can be there with you.
What about a Doula?
I noticed being pregnant in Italy that a Doula wasn’t necessarily a common practice, but it was possible! More often I found international residents in Italy both acting as and using Doulas. Have a look around your local area and see if one can be present with you.
Unfortunately, during continued covid restrictions only one person is allowed into the delivery room with you, so your Doula may not currently be able to come with you.
Here are some I found in Italy while researching around:
Margaretha – focuses also on hypnobirthing practices, she is mainly located in and around Milan but can travel a bit.
Bellies Abroad – offering a ton of prenatal resources all in English around Rome. They also can connect you with English-speaking resources in other areas if they know of someone.
If you have any other questions about being pregnant in Italy, drop them down below! I’ll do my best to answer, though always remember every ones experience is different and certain things can’t be summed up in a direct answer. For example – how doctors are in Italy, what about diet choices, etc etc. These are pretty generic questions that every single one of us will have a different response for you!