Pregnancy, Birth and Having Kids in Canada
If you’re at the point in your life where you’re thinking about or already starting a family, you might have some questions about pregnancy, birth and having kids in the new country you’ve immigrated to. We chatted with Deanne of Canada Abroad about her experiences surrounding being pregnant and having a child in both South Africa and in Canada, and the major or minor differences immigrants should be aware of.
Arriving in Canada
While Deanne is Canadian, she moved to South Africa with her husband for 8 years, where she became pregnant with her first child. Upon her return with her family, which you can read more about here, she needed to restart the whole process as though she were an immigrant to Canada as a result of being a permanent resident in South Africa. As she came back to Canada during her second pregnancy, this posed issues such having to go through the 90-day wait period for medical benefits and having no coverage in the meantime.
Upon arrival into Canada, there is a 90-day wait period for permanent residency. This begins from the day you land rather than upon registration, as you will need time to provide a proof of address. Deanne’s first stop was to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN) for her daughter so an address (their AirBnB’s at the time) could be put on file with it. She then opened a bank account using the same address. Her husband also had to get a Canadian driver’s license.
Pro tip: When getting a new learner’s permit in Canada, they will let you put any address onto that, which can be helpful when in need of proof of address.
Gathering all this paperwork including waiting for a physical bank statement can take around 30 days after landing in Canada.
When you begin seeing a new doctor or OB/GYN in Canada, you are not obligated to bring documents from your previous doctor, although Deanne notes it was certainly helpful. For example, at 22 weeks pregnant, her new doctor requested she undergo a panel of bloodwork she’d previously completed in South Africa. Because of her documentation, the doctor was able to accept them without sending her through the process all over again, a positive since Deanne had been paying her medical bills out of pocket.
In order to find an OB/GYN in Canada, you must be referred by a general practitioner, which is difficult to find when you are not yet on the government’s medical system. You can however, go to a walk-in clinic and have one of the doctors there refer you. Unlike the lengthy wait for a GP, once referred to a specialist like an OB/GYN they more than likely will take you on as their patient immediately.
In Canada, one main difference Deanne notes is not being able to receive an anatomical scan or ultrasound directly at the doctor’s which is the norm in South Africa. Instead, in Canada you are required to get referred to a separate imaging clinic if you want to actually see your baby and you’ll likely have to also pay out of pocket unless it’s for an urgent medical reason.
“For them, it’s just very practical [and] not necessary. It’s a waste of healthcare time and effort. That’s how they see it [in Canada]” Deanne says.
At 22 weeks pregnant, Deanne and her family arrived in Canada during the summer months. The sweltering heat and humidity as opposed to the nice, cool weather in South Africa was a bit of a shock to the system, especially while pregnant. A silver lining for Deanne was that Canada offered more variety of maternity wear than in South Africa, which helped her become more comfortable with the change of climates. The ease of online shopping was also helpful in finding winter clothes for herself and for her daughter as most retailors ship to Canada.
In terms of giving birth in Canada, it was important for Deanne to find a doula or midwife, both of which are very common there. Midwives are typically covered under medical benefits, while doulas usually are not. In Canada it’s common for many women to opt for at home births over hospital births as well.
With her first daughter in South Africa, Deanne opted for a natural birth despite her doctor pushing for a cesarean section. After switching doctors in order to have the natural birth she wanted, she still ended up needing an emergency c-section. Canadian doctors have typically been adamant about having a natural birth and only suggest c-sections when absolutely medically necessary. Although these days, Deanne says some may allow you the option after discussing in detail about it. While natural births and home births are the norm in Canada, Deanne found it difficult to find a facility for water births.
It’s common for mothers to give their doctor a birth plan for peace of mind. This is especially important if you are scheduling a c-section. The doctors typically allow the baby to attach to the mother after removal from the womb. Deanne notes that while birth plans are necessary, they don’t always go according to plan. She also recalls getting an epidural easily without any hassles.
When transporting to the hospital upon going into labor, it depends on the individual. In an emergency you can call for an ambulance and if you don’t have your own transport. Paramedics are trained to do an emergency delivery in the event the mother can’t get to the hospital in time. Many women may also take public transportation if they’re able to, knowing their contractions are not too far apart.
Before going into the hospital, you will complete your paperwork and pre-authorization with the medical system. You will likely have to pay extra if you want a private room as this isn’t covered. In both Canada and South Africa, mothers are usually sent home from the hospital within three days after giving birth. Partners are usually permitted to stay overnight as well with a pullout chair to sleep on.
Once the baby is born in Canada, regardless of the status of the parents, the child is automatically a Canadian citizen.
In the event of any complications with the birth, the child will be taken to get checked out. Deanne advises bringing any documentation about your medical records or previous pregnancies, if any in case of this situation. Hospitals in Canada will generally give you a checklist for items to include in your preparation bag for the mother and the baby. These typically include new clothes for the baby, nightgowns, slippers, snacks, etc. Things like diapers, creams, and food are typically provided by the hospital.
Availability of breastfeeding support will vary depending on the hospital. Much like South Africa, in Canada it is expected that mothers will start out breastfeeding. Mothers who have no intention of breast feeding may find it difficult to find support for bottle feeding by the hospital.
Once you’re ready to leave the hospital, you will be asked whether or not you have a general practitioner. If you’re like Deanne who didn’t have one yet, the hospitals usually have a clinic on site that you can bring the newborn to for the first few check-ups. From there it’s typically easy to find a GP willing to take on a newborn as a new patient, and ultimately the whole family.
Having a Newborn in Canada
In Canada, you’re required to have a car seat with an approval sticker on it, so it would be best to purchase a new one in Canada rather than bringing one with you. Deanne opted to keep her infant car seat from South Africa to avoid having to purchase a third for when her daughter grew into a toddler. In Canada using marketplace sites like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace are great resources for finding used car seats as long as it’s within the expiration date, as they typically expire after 3 years.
For going out and about with the baby during the winter months, Deanne suggests getting a winter sleep sack. You can even find some that can attach directly to the car seat. Thermal winter vests and snowsuits are also good purchases to invest in for the baby. It’s also very common to find good condition second hand clothing for infants as they usually don’t last very long.
For baby supplies such as diapers, you’ll be able to find all the major brand names that are available in South Africa, in addition to an in house or what they call “no name brand” which is simply a cheaper brand as it has no recognizable name on it. Some brands for formula may be bit harder to find, but a good rule of thumb, Deanne says, is to check what brands or countries the formula is owned by as the parent companies will usually be the same. Formula is not regulated so you can bring as many over with you as you like and then eventually transition into the Canadian brands. Deanne suggests mixing the two together if that is the case, and also consulting with your doctor about any concerns or recommendations.
Dealing with a newborn during the winter can pose some challenges. Deanne discovered a life hack of attaching zap traps to your stroller wheels as a snow tire for walks in the snow. It’s important to ensure the baby is in a snow suit or bundled up sufficiently when going out in the snow and making sure their face is not exposed. For the most part though, because of indoor heating virtually everywhere during the winter months, it won’t be that difficult. Because of indoor heating, the baby only needs to wear layers when outside.
Canada offers many different types of support groups for parents and babies. You’ll find usually at least one recreation center in every community, each with a swimming program for children and infants. This is a great means to socialize with other parents, especially if you’re new to the area. Public libraries also offer programs for babies and children. You can also find new communities and meetups for babies and parents through Facebook groups.
Paid Leave and Childcare
When pregnant in Canada, depending on the province you will be given a length of paid leave as well as after birth, a leave for both parents. This is not the case, however, if you are self-employed unless you’ve been paying employment insurance for at least a year.
In terms of maternity leave and childcare, legally Canada allows up to a year with a little less than your full salary. If you’re returning to work, you’ll be able to find a daycare but will have to pay out of pocket as it’s not covered, unless it’s part of your employment benefits. Some daycare centers do have a waiting list before your child can be enrolled, so you may have to apply to a few. If you’re in Ontario, the province will allow you to create an account through an online system which will put you on the waiting list on your choice of daycares based on your area. Daycares typically start at $900 a month in inner cities. Larger cities are likely more than that with longer wait times due to the higher population size of the areas.
Covid-19 has caused the government of Canada to implement many strategies for financial and home life assistance for families. Any questions or concerns you have about the process for starting your new life in Canada for you and your family can easily be answered through hotlines or the government of Canada website. Changes since Covid-19 are also easily available to educate yourself about, such as the new regulations surrounding daycares and schooling from home.
Finally, Deanne says not to worry about the children. Although it will be a transition, it’s remarkable how easily they can adapt and adjust. At four years old some of them are already skiing down the snowy mountains. They’ll easily make friends in the neighborhoods and playgrounds due to the communities not being fenced in the way they are in South Africa. When out and about, you’ll constantly be greeted by your neighbors and their children. Preganancy, birth, and having kids in Canada may be a bit of a transition from what you’re used to, but Deanne overall says she’s had a postive experience.
“It’s a definite journey, but a journey worth experiencing” says Deanne.