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Tuesday
May142013

Giving Birth in Mexico | Pregnant in Mexico

In February 2013 I gave birth to my second daughter in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have been contacted by many women with questions about giving birth in Mexico and am writing this post in an attempt to answer the questions I've received and to put all the resources and information I accumulated during my pregnancy and postpartum in one place.

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1. Please note that the comparisons that follow do not imply that one medical system, one culture, or one way of giving birth, is better than the other.

For my first daughter I gave birth at UCSD Hospital in San Diego in the United States under the care of a midwife. It is categorized as a 'baby friendly' hospital. A designation created by WHO and Unicef. My second birth was in Puerto Vallarta at San Javier Marina Hospital (not to be confused with San Javier Hospital, which is located in Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta.) San Javier Marina (SJM) could be categorized as a tourist hospital or as a medical tourism hospital, though it is also used by Mexicans who can afford it as well. My OBGYN was Doctor Laura Garcia (Doctora Laura). For both births I first labored naturally, then got an epidural, and gave birth vaginally.

To read the birth story of each daughter directly, you can read Cora's story here (US birth) and Lyra's story here (Mexico birth.) 

2. I live on a sailboat. For the duration of my pregnancy (months 7-9), we were docked at Marina La Cruz, north of Puerto Vallarta. We also rented an apartment in the city of the La Cruz for one month: one week prior to my daughter's birth and three weeks after it. We now are cruising around Mexico, and mainly living at anchor, but we didn't take our first cruise postpartum until our baby was eight weeks old.

3. If you still have questions after reading this post, please leave the question in the comments section and I will respond as soon as I can. There is an option to 'subscribe to comments' when you leave one, so you can be notified that I have responded.

4. Click here for my page with referral information to doctors and quick links to all my info on giving birth in Mexico.

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Prenatal Care in Mexico

I moved to Mexico when I was seven months pregnant and I was very happy with my prenatal care. Having had a previous birth to compare care to, I found the schedule of appointments the same but the course of treatment was different in Mexico than in the US. In the US, for almost every appointment I had to pee into a cup and that urine was analyzed. I was weighed and my blood pressure was checked. In Mexico I was rarely weighed, rarely had my blood pressure checked, and had my urine analyzed once in month seven. Each appointment in Mexico involved a detailed ultrasound to check on the baby and once I hit about 37 weeks onward I also had a NST performed in the office at each appointment.

Access to Doctors

Doctor Laura Garcia, my OBGYN in Puerto Vallarta. A wonderful doctor.

Patients have much more access to their doctors in Mexico than in the United States. Once you have met with a doctor in Mexico they generally give you their business card that includes their email and their cell phone. This is unheard of in the United States, but so helpful! I have Doctor Laura's contact info listed on this page here. Doctor Laura made it very clear that I could call her anytime I had a question or a worry, and I did end up calling her twice in month nine when I had concerns. Both times were in the evening and she had me go in to be monitored under her care. I never felt like I was inconveniencing her by calling and she was always kind and attentive while she listened to my concerns.

My daughter Cora (2.5 years old at the time) loved her so much that she now doesn't just play doctor with her stuffed animals at home, she says she is Doctor Laura as she administers check ups and helps her Elmo 'have a baby.' 

Every doctor I have had an appointment with here has given me their business card, with email address, and made it quite clear that I could correspond with them via email. I have taken them up on the offers several times. 

Natural Birth in Puerto Vallarta

Doctora Laura prepares to deliver my baby.

There are only a few options for pursuing a natural birth in Puerto Vallarta. A recently established group called Partos Vallarta is working with a midwife and doctor to do water births. Partos Vallarta can connect you with a doula, Hania, who speaks English and Spanish. There is a well-respected birth center called Plenitude in Guadalajara, but Guadalajara is a three hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, so you would need to move to Guadalajara prior to the birth (this was not feasible for us.) 

While I did not labor in water, I did labor naturally until I got to the hospital and Doctora Laura absolutely would have been fine with my giving birth without pain relief. I chose instead to have an epidural once I arrived at the hospital.

Cost of Care

When you add up the hospital fee, the doctor's fee for the birth, prenatal care, and taxi rides to and from the hospital, we spent about $3,000 USD out of pocket for the birth in Mexico (we did not use insurance while in Mexico). Non-Americans may think this figure is high, but most Americans know that this is a great price considering how expensive it is to give birth in America.

Public transportation vs. taxi vs. a car | Emergency Services

Babywearing on the Kombi makes things so much easier.

If I were made of money (and I'm not) I would have loved to have a car for the duration of my pregnancy and the postpartum period I spent in La Cruz. While a truly lovely city, La Cruz is located about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. That is 45 LONG, HOT minutes on public transportation, not to mention the half mile walk to the bus top from our marina. And Puerto Vallarta was where I had to go for all my doctor appointments and to give birth. You can pay a taxi every time but you'd be paying about 300 pesos each way.

If you take the buses, I suggest you take the white Kombis instead of the larger ATM buses. The ATMs are bumpy and uncomfortable. Every once in a while you'll get a bad Kombi, but for the most part they are much more comfortable than the ATMs. You WILL, however, have to take an ATM back to La Cruz, or pay for a cab, as the Kombis don't do pick ups in Puerto Vallarta. (I think their first pick up north bound toward La Cruz is at the Walmart near Nuevo Vallarta.) Sometimes we would take an ATM from my appointment/hospital in Puerto Vallarta, get off the ATM at the Walmart, and then wait for a more comfortable Kombi to zip by. I'm not going to lie to you, taking public transportation in Mexico, when heavily pregnant, is really uncomfortable, but it can be done.

We also had to do all our pre-baby shopping via public transportation and/or taxi. Eric has a large back pack and we put it through the ringer buying all the necessary items for our wee one's arrival. So yes, if the magic money fairy can get you a car while you are pregnant in Mexico, you may greatly enjoy having one.

While I have seen ambulances in Mexico, I haven't seen many. I'm not sure how you would call one. We just always made sure we had the phone number of a cab driver who was willing to be on call for us day or night. Once we moved to our apartment for the last month of the pregnancy, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to describe to the ambulance how to get to our apartment.

Cell phones

Speaking of calling an ambulance, or a cab, it was quite handy to have a cheap cell phone while in Mexico. You can pick one (or two) up in any TelCel. We got one for me so Eric knew I could always get a hold of him, and vice versa. You'll need some way to call and make doctor's appointments, etc. so think ahead about phone service.

What to bring to the hospital

Eric's faux modeling face. Showing off the present I got him for Lyra's birth.

Unlike in US hospitals, you will need to bring everything you and the baby will need for the duration of your stay. For my daughter's birth in San Diego, California, the hospital provided me with all kinds of things while we were there. Things like: diapers and wipes, nursing pads, lanolin ointment, sanitary pads, baby clothes, and blankets for the baby. In Mexico, none of these items are provided. If you don't have them, the staff will either go down and purchase them from the small pharmacy in the hospital, or go across the street to a grocery store to buy them, and you will pay a premium.

The clothes I brought for Lyra were too small (don't assume your baby will fit in newborn clothing!) and they had exactly one outfit on hand to let me use, and it was blue. They thought I'd be upset by putting her in a "boy" outfit, but I quickly assured them that she would look fabulous in powder blue, and she did.

I really sweated this part of the birth. As a nesting pregnant woman, I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed for me and Lyra. With my oldest, we were in the hospital for five days because of her jaundice, so I packed for at least a five day hospital stay. Luckily, we were in and out of the hospital in less than 24 hours this time around so I didn't use most of the things I packed. It was worth it for the peace of mind though. You can view my packing list here if you need some inspiration.

Having a birth plan

I wanted Lyra put on my chest directly after birth, to be able to nurse her exclusively (no formula or pacifiers), and as much skin-to-skin contact as possible.

Doctor Laura was supportive of my wishes to have a natural, unmedicated birth. She was also adamant about my writing a birth plan. While I can't speak for Doctor Laura, I can look at the rate of c-sections in Mexico, and assume that she does a large number of them. Doctor Laura wanted me to be very specific about the kind of things I wanted for my birth and she made sure to get the plan to her birth team so they would be prepared. I wrote mine in English and she translated what she needed for her team. There are tons of great birth plans online if you need one, but you should do your own research and understand what each item means before you place it on your plan. I wanted to keep mine to one page to make it easy to read over. You can view a copy of my birth plan here.

While many of the things on my birth plan did happen, a few did not. After Lyra was born she was put directly on my chest, just like I wanted. She was, however, not moving much and after letting the umbilical cord pulse for a bit, they cut it and had the pediatrician take her over to be monitored. At this point Eric never left Lyra's side.

Eventually Lyra was wheeled out and brought up to the nursery, and Eric went along with her. I thought I would be following them shortly so this did not bother me at first. Eric is an awesome dad and knew everything we wanted as far as her first hours of life were concerned.

While the doctors and nurses finished working on me, I took a moment to just breathe after the crazy delivery and rehashed everything with my doula, Amanda, who had never left my side.

Soaking in the warmth of the heated blanket post-delivery.When they wheeled me out of the delivery room, I thought I was on my way to my private room to be reunited with Eric and Lyra. I was so out of it in the picture above that I actually believed they had wheeled me out into the hallway and it would be any minute before they would take me upstairs. 

As you can see from the photo however, I was NOT in the hallway near the elevators, I was in a recovery room. I asked a nurse who was checking on me when I could see my baby and she said as soon as I could feel my legs. I immediately started trying to wiggle my legs. I couldn't feel a thing. I then spent the next 20-30 minutes trying and trying to move my legs. Amanda attempted to help me pass the time but it soon became obvious that I wasn't going to be moving my legs for awhile. I asked another nurse if I could be allowed upstairs to see my baby, and again, they said I would have to wait. I asked for some water, and they said I couldn't have any yet. After another 20-30 minutes, I called to a different nurse who was sitting down the hall and politely begged her to be moved to my room so I could see Lyra. This nurse acquiesced!

When we got there however, neither Eric or Lyra were there.

Eric's hands on the right. He never left her side while we were in the hospital.

Eric had accompanied Lyra and the attending pediatrician up to the nursery and almost as soon as they arrived in the nursery the doctor, Doctor Fernando Diaz Otero, asked Eric to leave for two hours so the baby could be kept warm in the incubator. When Eric asked why, the doctor said these were the rules of the hospital and continued to insist that Eric leave. Eric refused. Eventually Doctor Laura showed up and brokered a deal. She said that since Eric would be dressing Lyra, he could go get her things and help to dress her for the two hours that they wanted to keep her warm, or in other words, his reason for being in the room was to help dress her, not to break the hospital's rules (since it obviously wouldn't take two hours to dress her.)

The attending nurse who watched Eric confront the pediatrician asked him later why it was so important that he stay with Lyra. He told her that he was going to ask a lot from his kids in life with the lifestyle we were raising them in, so the least he could do was never leave their side. LOVE that man.

My doula, Amanda, on left, and a very nice nurse on the right.

I finally got up to our room about two and a half hours after giving birth. Eric and Lyra arrived a few minutes later and I took her out of her clothes, placed her on my chest and started breastfeeding. She latched on beautifully and I was in heaven.

To recap on the birth plan then, while I was happy that most of my wishes were met, not all of them were. I did not want to be separated that long from my baby and am glad that I was assertive, and knew how to speak enough Spanish to eventually get up to my room and my baby. I'm also glad that Eric stood his ground and stayed with Lyra. She had a 10 on her Apgars and was in no type of distress. If she needed to be kept warm, Eric knew he could do skin to skin with her so he refused to back down about leaving her, and for this I'm very grateful and proud of him. He was also asking repeatedly where I was and why I couldn't be brought up to our room to recover. His Spanish is not as good as mine, and he did not want to leave Lyra, so the separation was difficult for him. This was the most negative part of an otherwise generally positive birth experience.

The Hospital Stay

The vibe in a Mexican hospital is very different from one in the United States. In the US, the nurses are at large and in charge, in Mexico, they were quiet and did not do much explaining of the procedures they were performing. This might have been because they did not feel confident speaking to me in English and didn't know if I spoke good Spanish. I'm quite gregarious and inquisitive by nature so I went ahead and asked about everything they were doing. If I questioned anything, like why I was being given antibiotics by IV, they first checked with a doctor before they informed me why (the antibiotics were to prevent infection in the stitches I received after the birth.)

I asked repeatedly to be given a drink of water. I gave birth at 3:00am and my nurses said I could not have any water until 'the morning' and no food until closer to noon. I asked how I was supposed to successfully breastfeed if I couldn't eat or drink anything. I asked to speak to a doctor but they said the doctor wouldn't be in until 'morning' and I would need to wait. Around 6:00am I asked Eric to get some water from the pharmacy downstairs and started taking sips when the nurses weren't in the room. By 8:00am I started taking small bites of the protein bars I had packed in my hospital bags. I began eating slowly, to make sure I was okay, but I was voracious, and felt fine, and soon polished off two.

Overall summary - I'm glad I had a quick, complication-free delivery and that Lyra was healthy and also had no complications. It was hard enough with my level of Spanish to be assertive and ask questions and understand everything that was happening during my hospital stay. Even speaking Spanish like I do, I am not a native speaker, and had we had complications of any sort, it would have made it very difficult for Eric to navigate things without me if I had been incapacitated in any way.

Cultural differences

This is my 'what are you saying to me?' face.The same pediatrician Eric had scuffled (verbally) with the night before came by to follow up in the morning. He gave me strange advice for breastfeeding, such as to feed Lyra water and/or chamomile tea in between nursing sessions. When I asked why, he said because it was very hot here and she could get dehydrated. While I understand that in Mexico, many abuelas (grandmothers) pass on the tradition of giving babies tea or water, it is not a safe practice and not necessary for a breastfeeding mom. I also explained that were staying in an air-conditioned apartment, but this did not sway him. I didn't follow his advice, and felt like I should note it here. Check out this page for a listing of a different pediatrician recommended by both Doctora Laura and my friend Ali, in Puerto Vallarta.

Also, note the bandages wrapped around my legs. They started wrapping them around my legs while I was having a contraction. During the contraction I didn't care what they were doing to me, but once it subsided I looked at the nurse like she was crazy and asked aloud why there were putting them on. Apparently it is similar to having support hose on, to prevent blood clots, but I never had anything like that on my legs with my first birth in the states.

They were very serious about keeping this cloth or faja wrapped around me while I was there. Many Mexican women asked me postpartum why I didn't have one on either. I couldn't imagine having one because of how hot it was and never used one with my first birth either. I did ask why no one was using their hands to push down my uterus like they did while I was in the hospital with Cora in the US (it helps the uterus to shrink down post birth), but they said they were giving me some kind of drug in my IV to help my uterus shrink. No one ever touched my belly to check the size or state of my uterus from the outside.

Additionally, many Mexican women (and men) asked me why I was out and about during my cuarentena, a period of 40 days postpartum when Mexicans believe new mothers should stay at home and rest. While I was certainly moving slow and not doing a lot of activity postpartum, you couldn't have paid me to stay cooped up in either our apartment or on the boat for very long. It just felt so good to use my body and get exercise by walking!

Mexicans are obsessed with keeping babies warm. I dress Lyra in a onesie and get stares and outright suggestions from strangers here, women and men, to cover her up with a blanket so she doesn't get cold. It was 92 degrees today and a woman in the dentist's office told me to cover up Lyra because she looked cold (she wasn't.) It is just a cultural difference you will learn to smile at.

And lastly, people will touch your baby. If you're a first time mom, this might really drive you crazy (I was much more protective with my first than with Lyra.) Mexican people love babies and little children. They love to pat their heads, rub their cheeks, and hold their hands. Be prepared. Ladies on the street, doctor's offices, and restaurants ask to hold Lyra. I have only said no twice (just follow your instincts.) For the most part people just want a chance to snuggle and inhale the sweetness of your new little one. 

Baby (and mom) Items - Bring everything you want with you

There are no Targets and no Babies R Us in Mexico. Getting things mailed to Mexico is expensive and the mail service is not dependable. My friend Ali, on Bumfuzzle (who gave birth to both of her beautiful children in Puerto Vallarta), gave me great advice when she told me to bring anything I wanted for a baby with me. And bring stuff I did. I stuffed my suitcases with items from the states and then had my sister stuff her suitcases too. I'm so glad Lyra was my second baby so I had some kind of idea of the things I would want and need for raising a wee one. Feel free to peruse my list of must-haves here.

Sanitary products (and diapers): Mexico is CRAZY for scented feminine products (and diapers.) I have extremely sensitive skin and can't used perfumed toilet paper and sanitary pads. I have been able to find unscented toilet paper but not sanitary pads. My friends have been bringing me feminine products from the United States. Luckily Lyra does not have sensitive skin, so using the diapers down here has not been a problem. We did find unscented diapers called Bio-Baby diapers at the Walmart in Nuevo Vallarta if you need them.

Buying in bulk: Mexico has not followed suite after the US in offering bulk items in their grocery stores. Wet wipes are sold in individual packets! We got a membership to Costco while we lived in Puerto Vallarta which let us buy both diapers and wipes in bulk. If you can't make it to Costco, Mega is owned by Costco and sometimes sells the Kirkland brand wipes in bulk, but usually you can only find individual packets. If your baby does not have sensitive skin, the cheapest option for diapers is called Klean-Bebe Comidisec, and they work great for Lyra. 

Vaccinations

Do your homework! Eric and I both believe in, and vaccinate our children. We follow the CDC's vaccination schedule, and also got Hep A since we are traveling in Mexico and other 3rd world and developing countries. We passed on the TB vaccine which is routine down here. My complete post on vaccines in Mexico is here.

Mexican birth certificate and US citizenship

Click here for my post on how to get a Mexican birth certificate and here for my post on how to apply for your child's Consular Report of Birth Aboard (CRBA) and US passport.

If you have any more questions, please let me know in the comments section and I will try to get back to you asap.

Special thanks to my friends Ali and Monique for all the help and info they gave me over these past few months in Mexico.

Reader Comments (12)

Fantastic post Charlotte! Very informative but most of all its interesting.
Where I live in Texas, we still have a decidedly Mexican culture going on Its blended with America to become something a bit different, but its still there. I know what you mean about the cold baby thing (had to chuckle at that) and the 40 days or being housebound. I could not do it either and was out and about the day after each of my kids were born and yes, I heard the exclamations of concern for my sanity as well as admonishment to Mark for allowing me to go out with a tiny baby. ;)

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCidnie

You just wrote a book! Wow! Great information here Charlotte!

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercindy

Congratulations on the successful birth of Lyra! I enjoyed reading about your experiences and the birth process in Mexico. You are an adventurous woman, a modern day pioneer!!

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlana

Thanks Charlotte for these amazing insights. What a great storyteller you are! :)

May 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan D.

This is a really great post. I imagine it will be SO SO helpful for anyone considering giving birth in Mexico. I'm really glad the whole process went well for you despite being separated from Lyra for so long (surprised you didn't go insane).

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDani

Thank you Charlotte for such a comprehensive, well-written post. It's made me think. :)
I'm happy you wrote it.

Fyi under "Mexican birth certificate and US citizenship" there is nothing to click? The post didn't link.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChani

Thanks so much, Charlotte! This post is just what we needed right now. I hope we run into you guys soon!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbettiedelmar

Thanks for such an interesting post. I am a women's health nurse practitioner and soon-to-be cruiser. I worked in the hospital for many years and also in a prenatal clinic which had many women from Mexico and Central America. I love all the transcultural differences.

October 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary W/

Thank you for this post. My husband is from Mexico and I the US and though we don't have kids yet, this Mexico vs. US birthing practices and norms comes up as we plan for the future. This was informative and helpful from someone who has experienced birth in both countries. Gracias!

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

My pleasure, Amanda. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. Suerte!

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Best post ever! Amen to the overly scented everything and the obsession with warm babies. My daughter had an allergy out break when we were in Chihuahua (excema and terribly runny nose and eyes). I asked my in-laws to re-wash her sheets and clothes in plain water - no soap or fabric softener. They looked at me like I had denounced the Pope. Like a Procter and Gamble commercial, my father in law said, "But there's nothing softer for a baby's skin than Suavitel (the ubiquitous fabric softener brand). Hilarious.

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterH Ortiz

Hey thanks! And yes, it is crazy how much they love their scented products!

October 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterCharlotte

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