Most people thought that we were crazy when we first told them that we had decided to give birth in Vietnam. They asked, “Isn’t it a third-world country?”, and “What are their hospitals like?”. “Do you have insurance?”
We even questioned our sanity a few times – especially when I was laying on the operating table about to be cut open and my husband was threatening to go to another hospital unless they let him be in the operating room for the procedure. And we’re still questioning our sanity when Humphrey wakes us up crying at 4:00 in the morning.
But overall it was a good experience and much less expensive than what we would have paid to have a baby without insurance in the USA. Even with health insurance, the average cost of having a baby by C-section in Oregon (the state where we lived in the USA) is ~$11,000. The hospital bill in Vietnam was about a third of that.
If you are planning on having a baby in Vietnam, or just want to know what it was like for us, read on for a detailed account of our experience. And if you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to us directly – we are happy to help however we can!
Photo Credit: Some of the photos in this post (including the header image) are by the incredibly talented Nicola Bezuidenhout. Please check out her Instagram page to see more of her work and her beautiful family!
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Giving Birth in Vietnam: My Story
Nick and I had discussed having children for years before we actually decided to make it a reality. We’ve had our baby names picked out for as long as I can remember – the name Humphrey was always at the top of our list, followed closely by Grizzley (don’t judge us). But since we’ve been traveling nonstop since 2016, the timing had never been ideal.
Considering that we are both in our late 30s, we’d been afraid that our fertility window was slowly closing. So at the beginning of 2019, we decided that this was the year to try. And since we’d recently decided to move to Saigon, we figured it was as good of a place as any to have a baby! Vietnam actually has several high-quality international hospitals so we knew that we’d receive a level of care that was on par with the US and Europe.
We decided to start “trying” (whatever that means) in March of 2019 and expected it would take about a year to get pregnant. So we were pretty shocked when I took a pregnancy test on June 14th and saw a positive sign. We were in the UK on a road trip with plans to visit Portugal before finally settling down in Vietnam in July. It was Nick’s birthday so we grabbed dinner in our hotel restaurant and stared at each other with wide eyes while thinking “WTF do we do now?”
Our friends Zack and Rochelle were meeting us in Lisbon and even though they were also pregnant, we weren’t quite ready to share our news yet. We hadn’t even been to see the doctor yet. So we kept it as our little secret and at every meal, I’d order wine and Nick would sneakily drink it because obviously, I’d never voluntarily pass on Portuguese wine. Being stone-cold sober while Nick was drunk was definitely a first!
Pregnancy in Vietnam
Being pregnant in Vietnam was actually amazing. Most people don’t really speak English so I was able to avoid any unsolicited pregnancy advice and questions about my diet or body. I had a Facetime call with someone back home who said I was HUGE and was going to have a BIG BABY and it made me realize that I’m not cut out to be pregnant around people that I know.
Of the Vietnamese people who did comment on my belly, most told me how small I looked and were quite excited that I was having a boy. I got a few belly rubs while shopping in the markets of Saigon but most of the time I flew under the radar.
The only disappointment was perhaps people not caring enough that I was pregnant. It was rare that anyone held a door open for me or gave up their seat so I could sit down. I expected pregnancy to come with a lot of perks but in Vietnam, most people treat you like anyone else. I was really looking forward to cutting in front of everyone in the bathroom line but my dream was never realized.
Overall, I didn’t love being pregnant, though compared to many people it sounds like I had a relatively easy go of it. I didn’t get morning sickness but I was extremely tired throughout my entire pregnancy. I also got horrendous heartburn after every meal. Laying down made my heartburn worse so the combination of exhaustion and a burning esophagus meant that I was only truly comfortable for small windows of each day.
I was also incredibly uncomfortable with my changing body. Ever since I lost 30 pounds back in 2010, I’ve been very careful about my weight. So watching the scale creep up daily even though I was exercising and eating well was difficult to cope with. I took very few photos of myself pregnant and tried my best to hide my burgeoning belly whenever we went out in public.
In case you’re wondering, I gained 25 lbs in total and I still have 8 left to lose. Not bad after only 3 weeks!
After weighing the best hospital options – FV Hospital and Hanh Phuc – we chose FV mainly because of the proximity to our apartment in District 4. I chose a credentialed female Vietnamese doctor who in hindsight was all business and light on empathy. Communication proved to be a challenge at times and we never really felt like we got all of our questions answered. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great doctor, just maybe not the best choice for two terrified first-time parents.
In hindsight, we should have met with several doctors to make sure we found one that fit our needs. On the third day after giving birth, I was visited by a very lovely French doctor who came to see how I was doing. I was pantsless and sobbing because my baby was blindfolded under a jaundice lamp. He was so kind and reassuring that I found myself wishing that he had been my doctor all along.
We don’t have health insurance in Vietnam so we paid cash for all of our visits. Each visit cost anywhere from $80-150 USD depending on what procedures were being done. That included the doctor consultation, an ultrasound, and any blood and/or urine tests. And unlike doctors in the US, our doctor was able to tell us the approximate cost of various tests so that we could opt in or out.
When we left the hospital after each visit, we had a receipt that clearly outlined what every procedure cost, and we had a folder that contained all of our medical records. The transparency is refreshing after spending our lives in the US where you never know what you’ll end up paying until your outrageous bills start arriving in the mail.
Overall, we felt that our doctor had a rather casual approach to our prenatal care. We had a scheduled appointment every 4 weeks or so, and every 3 weeks as we got closer to our due date. The only thing she told me not to do was eat raw meat and she looked slightly horrified when I told her I was still exercising. She said 30 minutes of walking was all I was allowed (I actually did 45 – shame on me!).
And anytime she’d suggest a certain test and we’d ask for more information about it, she’d say “you don’t want to do it? That’s okay, you don’t have to.” This is an example of the communication challenges, but it was actually kind of nice that she didn’t force us to do anything we didn’t want to do.
Early in our pregnancy, we had an ultrasound that measured the thickness of our baby’s neck. We were told that we had a low risk of our baby having down syndrome. But because we are over the age of 35 we decided to have a non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) done anyway, just in case the neck measurement was inaccurate.
Our doctor gave us two options – get it done in a local hospital and have the results sent to the USA for 16,000,000 VND (~$700 USD), or have it tested in Vietnam for 6,000,000 VND (~$250 USD). We chose the less expensive route but this experience made me the most uncomfortable of any of our prenatal procedures.
Our doctor gave us the phone number of a company that would draw my blood. They were to come to our apartment at an agreed-upon time and the results would take several weeks to get back. My first red flag was the woman who showed up to draw my blood. She wasn’t wearing what I would expect a nurse to wear (I guess I shouldn’t have expected scrubs). Plus, the bag that held the needles and vials looked like a dirty old makeup bag. We also had to pay for the procedure in cash. Sketchy right?
I didn’t actually see her open a new needle (but in hindsight, I’m sure she did) and she was wearing gloves but kept touching other things like her cell phone. It just felt wrong. I called my doctor and she assured me that everything was okay and that they use this company regularly. The “nurse” opened a new needle and I agreed to let her draw my blood but swore to Nick that I would never do this again.
If I ever have another baby in Vietnam, I’ll be paying extra to have my blood drawn in an actual hospital by a professional. It was expensive but worth it!
Vaccinations for Mom
During one prenatal visit with our doctor, we were informed that Vietnamese law dictates that expecting mothers get a tetanus shot. She said that it wasn’t an issue at FV Hospital, but in the event that I have an emergency and have to go to another hospital, the risk could be high. It turns out that there is a problem in many hospitals with women getting tetanus from the instrument that they use to cut the umbilical cord. Ew.
This struck us as being absolutely terrifying so we decided to get the vaccination, just in case.
Nick and I read several books during our pregnancy, including Bumpology, Expecting Better, and Happiest Baby on the Block. Since we never really felt like we were leaving our doctor visits feeling overly informed about what to expect, we needed to prepare ourselves in other ways. FV Hospital offers birthing classes and we figured that would be a good way to gain valuable information.
There are 5 courses in total and the cost was ~$80 USD for both of us to attend. We essentially learned two new things from our instructor. First, we learned that once your water breaks you should lie on your back for 15 minutes (although we weren’t able to find anything online to corroborate this), and we got the opportunity to tour the maternity ward to see what the recovery rooms looked like.
We also met a few really lovely couples which made the class worth it.
But again we had some communication challenges as our class instructor was Vietnamese. And her teaching style felt unprepared and unstructured. In hindsight, the books that we chose were probably enough to prepare us for what was to come, and the classes were a bit unnecessary. Plus, we could’ve saved ourselves 9 hours and $80!
FV Hospital offers 3 types of recovery rooms in the maternity ward. The lowest level is a room that is shared with another patient, and guests cannot stay overnight. The next level is a private room with a chair that converts to a small cot for one guest to stay the night. And the top level is a VIP suite with a desk, a couch that converts to a bed, and even a private smoking room (why?!?). Two guests can stay overnight in the VIP suite and their meals are also included.
We planned to try for the VIP suite but there are only 2 and they cannot be booked in advance. The cost for the room is about $250/night – pricey by Vietnamese standards but a steal compared to what you’d pay in the US! Unfortunately, both rooms were taken when we checked in so we were given one of the smaller private rooms.
Poor Nick had to sleep on a tiny, uncomfortable cot that barely fit in the room with a jaundice bed, changing table, and everything else. If they had decided on our 6th day of being cooped up in that room that they wanted to keep us for longer, I might have forked someone in the eyeball.
Humphrey was due on February 13, 2020. My water broke on January 14th at 12:30 pm. I was walking on the treadmill in the gym in our apartment building. I’d been on it for maybe 5 minutes when I felt a pop and immediately soaked my pants. I frantically tried to get Nick’s attention as I dripped pink amniotic fluid all over the floor. We hauled ass back to our apartment, past the families sunning at the pool, and up the elevator, all while looking like I’d peed all over myself.
Because we weren’t due for another month, we didn’t have our hospital bags packed, nor did we own any preemie clothing. So we threw some necessities in a bag and called the doctor who instructed us to go to her office rather than the emergency room.
When we arrived at the hospital, we checked in and were told to wait as our doctor was busy with other patients. I was still leaking fluid everywhere so they brought me pads to sit on while we waited. I kept telling Nick that I wished they would just check to make sure our unborn baby was okay – it was so early. We waited, and waited, for what felt like an eternity.
Finally, we were checked in and she took the readings of the baby’s heart rate which were good. But he was still in a breech position. There’s a 24-hour window between when your water breaks and when you risk infection, and the likelihood that he would turn in that time was low. A C-section was our only option. I’d eaten breakfast at 11 am and because it’s required to wait 6 hours for the food to digest before surgery, I was scheduled for an operation at 5 pm that day.
I was taken to the surgery prep room where they monitored the baby’s heart rate and then had my shower. They inserted a catheter and put tight stockings on my legs to help with potential blood clots. We were told that Nick could be in the room during the surgery which was a relief as everything was happening so fast! I wasn’t quite mentally prepared to have major surgery (or a baby!).
I was wheeled into a cold room to wait all alone. And then my C-section got moved back to 6 pm. Little did I know that while I was waiting, Nick was battling with the staff. They told him to take our belongings to my post-surgery room and that he could see me and the baby after the surgery. They reasoned that it was an “emergency” C-section (it wasn’t).
Plus, Nick didn’t know that my surgery was delayed so at 5 pm, he started to freak out thinking that I was in there alone. He threatened to go to another hospital and apparently, they thought that he was going to burst through the operating room doors at any moment.
They absolutely wouldn’t let him in while I was getting an epidural and while my stomach was being prepped, but they did end up letting him in before the surgery. My doctor told me about Nick’s threats and said “your husband loves you very much” while probably laughing on the inside at the thought of him trying to get my big pregnant numbed-legs butt to another hospital.
During the operation, the nurses hung a curtain between my chest and my stomach to shield us from the bloody massacre happening in my abdomen. I could feel some tugging and kept asking Nick what was happening down there. He kept peeking over the curtain much to the annoyance of the nurses, who kept raising it a little higher to block his view.
Once they successfully removed Humphrey, they allowed Nick to stand up and snap a photo (it is CRAZY, send me a message if you want to see it).
Humphrey got a 10 out of 10 on the Apgar scale (appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration) so they placed him on my chest for some quality skin-on-skin bonding time. That lasted about 10 minutes and the next time I would get to see him would be the following morning in the NICU (cue tears).
Right after his birth, when Humphrey was being checked out, the nurses noticed that he was grunting quite a bit. It’s common for C-section babies to have “wet lungs” (also known as Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) because the amniotic fluid doesn’t get pushed out the lungs as the baby is squeezed through the birth canal.
The pediatricians went back and forth about it and eventually decided that Humphrey needed to be taken to the NICU. Nick tried to convince them otherwise, knowing that I was alone in the recovery room and that it would be quite sad to spend our first night without our new baby, but proper medical care for Humphrey outweighed our desire to hang out with him in the maternity ward.
So I spent two hours anxiously trying to wake up my numb legs so I could hang out with my baby, all the while not knowing that he would be in another room, on another floor, for the next two nights.
For the record, it was horrible to give birth to a baby and then not actually have the opportunity to see my baby. It’s surreal really, the gravity of this life-changing event didn’t sink in until later.
The NICU nurses were very sweet with Humprey since he was their cutest (and only) patient. They were constantly doting over him and singing to him in his crib. He was hooked up to pressurized oxygen to force the liquid out of his lungs and keep his oxygen levels high, an IV for hydration and nutrients, and a stomach tube to relieve the gas bubbles from the pressurized oxygen. Seeing him hooked up to all of the machines was heartbreaking and caused the first of many tears during our hospital stay.
But the NICU also came with a few struggles. We asked (insisted) that they check with us before making any decisions regarding our baby. But as we were visiting they wheeled in an ultrasound machine and told us they would be checking his brain and his right testicle (which was swollen). To which we responded, “wait, you didn’t ASK us about this?”
The pediatrician got very defensive and basically forced us to make a decision on the spot. We didn’t have time to properly research the cons of doing an ultrasound on a premature baby’s brain but felt pressured to agree to it.
And when we asked about trying to breastfeed him since we were really trying to avoid formula. They agreed that it was a good idea and told us to come back at 12 pm. We did and he just didn’t seem hungry. So we asked what time they had fed him last and they said 11 am (um…).
We couldn’t figure out if there was a communication challenge or if we all just had different priorities when it came to caring for our child. A baby in the NICU coupled with miscommunication was a recipe for stress and anxiety for us.
Luckily, Nick had read that it’s best to pump every few hours when you have a baby in the NICU to get things going. That allowed us to transition smoothly to breastfeeding as soon as he was returned to our room 2 days later. It definitely turned out to be an important thing to know about newborn babies.
Humphrey improved considerably in the NICU and was brought back to our room on our 2nd full day in the hospital at 3 pm. We were able to hang out with him (which mostly meant watching him sleep) and attempt to breastfeed with the help of an amazing midwife – Ms. Vo Thi Mong Huyen.
But bright and early the next morning at 6 am, the nurse came in to take our blood pressure and check his jaundice levels. She found that his bilirubin level was 275 – definitely higher than normal. So they wheeled in a phototherapy bed, blindfolded him, and instructed us to leave him under the light for up to 48 hours. Thankfully he could stay in our room but if his levels didn’t improve, he’d need to be moved to another room to be cared for by one of the nurses on staff.
Seeing his tiny little body blindfolded and under a lamp was too much for me to bear. I was a wreck all morning, huddled next to Nick in my hospital bed, sobbing into his shirt. A doctor came in to check on my stitches and took pity on me. He was so kind and encouraging, telling me that my feelings were normal after having a baby and that every mom went through this. He made me feel better but the tears wouldn’t stop all day.
We were able to take him out from under the lamp periodically for cuddles and feeding. He wasn’t eating much so we were supplementing the boob with pumped milk fed through a syringe. And Humphrey actually seemed to love being under those warm lamps – he lounged out as if he was enjoying a tropical beach vacation!
24 hours later his bilirubin numbers were normal again and we finally had our baby back!
Because I was forced to have a C-section, I never experienced the pain of a labor contraction. So I’m not exactly sure which is worse. But I can tell you that the two days following my surgery were pure torture. Even on a morphine drip, Nick had to literally pick me up out of bed and place me on the toilet. How in the world a single mother would be able to recover from a C-section while caring for a newborn baby is absolutely beyond me. They are the real MVPs.
We were completely heartbroken that Humphrey had to spend 2 nights in the NICU but in all honesty, it was nice having some time to rest and recover.
Daily activities in the maternity ward started each day at around 6 am when someone would bring me a bottle of water and the cleaning staff would empty the trash and mop the floor (why so early?). Throughout the day, I had nurses check my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. The doctor on duty came every day to check my wound and ask if I’d “passed gas”. And several times a day I would be helped into a wheelchair and Nick would wheel me down to the NICU, 3 floors below, to check on Humphrey.
The kind French doctor informed me that the best way to have a bowel movement (sorry, TMI) was to get up and walk around. So every day, I started hobbling laps around the maternity ward. It was super painful and a smidge embarrassing but it really helped me to heal quickly. By our 6th and final day in the hospital, I was able to stand up straight and walk out of the hospital on my own (when I started walking I was hunched over like a 90-year-old woman).
About 2 weeks after giving birth, I was back in the gym and walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes each day. And aside from Humphrey waking up every hour and a half at night to eat, we are loving this new life as a family of 3!
Vaccinations for Baby
Nick read a great book before giving birth called The Vaccine-Friendly Plan to gain more insight into the pros and cons of various vaccinations. We are by no means anti-vaxxers but we do recognize that there are some risks associated with the many vaccines that children are required to get, especially when they are newborns.
In Vietnam, Hepititus B and tuberculous vaccinations are commonly given to newborn babies. Neither are common illnesses in the US but are unfortunately quite common here. So even though they have some risks associated, Humphrey will be getting both. But we chose to hold off until his 1-month appointment to allow his immune system to get a bit stronger.
The Cost of Having a Baby in Vietnam
Before we actually gave birth, we weren’t exactly sure what the total cost would be to have a baby in Saigon with no medical insurance. We assumed that the total would be in the $3,000 – 4,000 range, including all prenatal visits. But since things didn’t go exactly as planned and we had to do a C-section and Humphrey had to stay for 2 nights in the NICU, we figured that the price would be higher than anticipated.
All-in we stayed in the hospital for 5 nights in a private room (meals for mom included) and had a C-section surgery, including spinal anesthesia. Humphrey spent 2 nights in the NICU and spent 24 hours under phototherapy lights. We had round-the-clock care from midwives and pain management. And our bill at the end of our stay for everything was ~$3,300 USD. That doesn’t include our prenatal visits before the delivery but regardless, that’s a steal of a deal!
Insurance for Humphrey (and Us)
Since giving birth to Humphrey we decided to be responsible parents, and we have signed up for travel medical insurance through SafetyWing.
It was perfect for us because, unlike many other travel insurance options, you can sign up for SafetyWing even if you have already started your trip. You also don’t have to pre-determine an end date for your time abroad – you just pay the premium every month while you’re on the road and your travel medical insurance policy extends for another 30 days.
An additional reason we chose SafetyWing is that coverage is included for one child under 10 years old for each adult on the policy. So we get insurance for Humphrey at no additional cost!
SafetyWing provides coverage in 180 countries around the world plus we even have coverage when we go back home to the USA (for up to 15 days at a time). It definitely gives us more peace of mind while traveling with little baby Humphrey!
So, I’ll bet you’re wondering if we would choose to have another baby in Vietnam after our experience giving birth in Saigon. The answer is YES! But with a few caveats. For instance, we would choose a more empathetic doctor who speaks better English. Communication challenges are usually not a problem for us but when it comes to major surgery, it makes stressful situations even worse.
We may also check out a few different hospitals to see the maternity wards, explore the room options, and possibly meet a few doctors and midwives. When we visited a friend at Hanh Phuc International Hospital, we were totally impressed by her gigantic private room with a view. But she didn’t receive the lactation help from the midwives that we did. So we’d like the chance to weigh the different options.
We would also probably skip the tetanus shots and possibly the birthing classes, especially if we toured the maternity ward early in the process.
And on a more personal note, we would do a better job of preparing for the possibility of premature birth by making sure we’ve purchased everything we need and pre-packing our hospital bags. So more diapers (for baby AND mom), more comfy PJs and undies, and lots of yummy snacks!
We hope you enjoyed reading about our birth experience in Vietnam. If you’re planning on giving birth abroad, please feel free to reach out with any questions!
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1 thought on “Having a Baby in Vietnam: My Story of Giving Birth in Saigon”
I loved your pregnancy and birth account particularly since you had Humphrey in Saigon (Cholon from what I can gather). I had my younger son Michael at Cholon Hospital on August 1, 1973 and my experience was completely different than yours. Are you still living in Saigon and have you decided whether to have another baby? If you’re interested I would be happy to write about my pregnancy and birth experience in Saigon. Thank you for a delightful read. Monica