Pregnancy in Sweden is a no brainer, speaking from experience. Sweden is a westernised, medically advanced and socially organised country. According to the Commonwealth Fund, Sweden is ranked third in the world for it’s progressive healthcare system, high proportion of doctors, above-average healthcare spending, and relatively low prescriptions of drugs (2016). The infant mortality rate in Sweden is 2.6 per 1,000 births (data.worldbank.org).
So, if you’re an immigrant and soon-to-be parent living in Sweden I guess you’re wondering whether all the “chaos” about maternity care, maternity ward closures, and “BB chaos” is something to be really worried about. Well, yes, no and maybe is a good starting point.
In the last 10 years, the Swedish government has closed 22 maternity clinics across Sweden. This crisis in care has been brewing for some time but the outrage took hold when a maternity ward in Sollefteå, in rural, north of Sweden, was closed. This forced hundreds of expectant mothers to have to drive 100-200 km to different hospitals. It led to women ending up giving birth in cars, fire engines and taxis. You probably came across the story in the press about the midwife from Sollefteå who set up private training for expectant parents on how to give birth in a car. Since then there have been a flood of reports, news stories about the thousands of women being turned away from maternity wards and some being flown to Finland to give birth. However, the most alarming issue is the life threatening staff shortages and under resourced clinics being run by staff that don’t even have time to go to the toilet or change hygiene products whilst on shift. These working conditions create life threatening gaps in care and judgement.
Finally, this summer the Swedish government promised an extra 500m sek to boost maternity services around Sweden. The money is being handed to local authorities to be decided how to spend. Services will be prioritised with regards to size, capacity and birthrate. Meaning, if you live in a rural community with a small maternity clinic or local hospital, it’s more likely that these services will be moved to larger hospitals further away. Similar to the situation in Sollefteå, clinics serving less than 50,000 people are likely to be consolidated. But, if you live in a larger city, like Stockholm, Gothenburg or Uppsala, it’s less likely that services will be broken up but the clinics and wards are still fighting staff shortages and closing of beds.
So, what prompted me to write this in the first place? I kept reading about the demonstrations taking place all over Sweden. Yesterday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the cities to protest about the risks that women are taking giving birth in Sweden!? And, to demand that every women living in Sweden has the right to a safe birth, no matter their background or country of origin. The demonstration was organised by Födelsevrålet (translates to “the birth roar”), an interest group set up a year ago to advocate the birthing rights of mothers. So, is this something that we should all be deeply worried about, i.e. Nazi’s on our doorstep, Donald Trump in the Whitehouse, worried? At the start I asked if this crisis was something that us “nysvensk” should be worried about and I decided that “yes, no and maybe” was a good response.
YES, because the work load of midwives, nurses and clinicians is beginning to become dangerous. They are over worked, undervalued and they hold people’s lives in their hands. And, of course, this leads to complications in pre-natal and post-natal care. But, it’s the pressure, stress and anxiety that has led to so many midwives resigning in protest and therefore leaving even further staff shortages.
NO, because despite all the rhetoric you hear on the news, in the media and in this blog post, Sweden is still one of the safest places in the world to birth a child. The expectation and entitlement that accompanies that claim isn’t something to be sniffed at. Women in Sweden feel entitled to a safe and uncomplicated birthing situation, it is expected. And, when that is disrupted or challenged a social injustice is done.
MAYBE, because if you live in a rural or area of low population in Sweden, it’s likely that you’re maternity services will be changing. More likely they’ll be consolidated rather than closed but it could mean that you’re birth takes place in another town, county or kommun. This has left thousands of mothers-to-be feeling isolated, unprepared and endangered. The very last sort of emotions a new mother should be experiencing whilst preparing for the birth of her child.
But, if you are worried, speak up and talk to your midwife. Book an appointment to visit your chosen hospitals. Get an understanding of how the maternity clinics in your area are admitting. And, finally, ask about home birthing. Home birthing in Sweden only makes up 1 in 1,000 births. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be touching more and more on pregnancy in Sweden as part of our Health and Well-being in Sweden sections. We’ll also be discussing it AT LENGTH via the Littlebearabroad podcast as my colleague Elly’s due date approaches…a new baby bear!!! If you have any particular questions about pregnancy, pre-natal or post-natal care that you would like us to cover, question or ask someone about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.