Are you an expat and pregnant in Norway?
Fastlege – helsestasjon – ob-gyn – are you confused?
First of all – congratulations! I still remember how I held my very first positive pregnancy test in my trembling hands. I was blissfully happy and in shock at the same time. So I called my fastlege and made an appointment. Because that is what you do, right? At least that is what I thought at the time. I had been living in Norway for 2.5 years and I am from Germany – which isn’t even THAT different from Norway one would think. Well, let me just tell you that I left my 2-minute appointment in tears. “I don’t think I have ever had someone come in THAT early” was the only thing she said, without even looking at me. I was newly pregnant and emotional, and just felt completely ridiculous.
Turns out, I just didn’t know how things were done when you are pregnant in Norway.
So if you are pregnant in Norway, read on for a proper overview of how pregnancy and maternity care is organized here.
Note: Everything I explain here refers to uncomplicated and straightforward pregnancies.
Norway is one of the safest places in the world regarding anything really, but especially for giving birth. So don’t worry, you will be in good hands, even if things are done very differently than what you are used to!
Even though Norway might do fewer checks and follow-up appointments than other countries, Norway has a statically low number of stillbirths compared to other countries, so trust that what they do works.
Public and private health care when you are pregnant in Norway
Public health care is basically covering everything you need and the standard is generally high. There are exceptions of course, and you will always find people who will have had bad experiences but expect to be in good hands and that everything that you really need is covered by public health care.
You generally pay a small amount out of your own pocket (called “egenandel” – “your own part”) for any doctor visits or medicine. That amount is capped at 3040kr per year, so if you ever need a doctor/medicine regularly, you will never need to pay more than 3040kr per year.
Once you are pregnant, you don’t even need to pay that small amount yourself anymore. Whatever medical needs you have are 100% covered for pregnant women, even if they are not directly pregnancy-related.
There are a couple of private healthcare providers for people who don’t want to wait for an appointment through public healthcare. Some companies have special deals with these private clinics, so it might be worth checking with your (or your spouse’s) employer.
There are also specialists that take you in as private patients, but you get the same care (often at the same clinics with the same physicians) if you go through public healthcare – the main difference is that you often get an appointment faster if you go privately and pay yourself. That is in some cases a valid point, of course, so feel free to make that decision.
But trust that if you really do need urgent help, also public healthcare will provide that fast and efficiently.
Important to note: You do NOT miss out on proper maternity care if you do not use private clinics.
Your “fastlege” – general practitioner
A “fastlege” is a general physician/practitioner that you can choose yourself. You are usually assigned one when you first come to Norway, but can change freely twice a year without any questions asked.
This general practitioner is the basis of the Norwegian healthcare system. This is super important to understand! Whatever medical problem you have, your fastlege is ALWAYS the first one to get in touch with (except for emergencies and situations where you are specifically told otherwise), whether it is a cough, eye-sight problems, your emotional health, a pregnancy, you name it.
Once you understand that, a lot of other things fall into place.
Whatever ails you, you get in touch with your fastlege and if he or she thinks you need specialist care, they will make sure that you get to see a specialist.
Your child is ill? You might think about seeing a pediatrician. Wrong. Call your fastlege.
You are pregnant? You might think about seeing an ob-gyn. No. Get in touch with your fastlege.
He or she will take it from there and tell you everything you need to know, including choosing the hospital where you want to give birth and make sure they reserve a spot for you.
Since your fastlege is playing such an important role in your healthcare in Norway, don’t hesitate to find someone that really feels right for you. (Needless to say I don’t have the same fastlege anymore that made me cry at the beginning of my first pregnancy. But I found one that I love so much that I keep her, even though we moved 30 minutes out of Oslo many years ago.)
Your “helsestasjon” – health center
A “health center” is taking care of everything that concerns your baby’s and child’s development, starting when you are pregnant. You are assigned a helsestasjon according to where you live.
There are midwives working at the helsestasjon that you can talk to whenever you have a pregnancy-related question or concern that you do not want to take up with your fastlege.
You can choose yourself if you want your pregnancy check-ups done at your fastlege or at the helsestasjon. There are a couple of checks that you need to do at your fastlege (such as blood tests in the beginning, or if you require sick leave) but for all other checks, you can choose yourself and mix and match however you want to.
My personal experience is that the midwives at the helsestasjon often have more time (and understanding, experience, and expertise) than a fastlege.
When your baby is born and you are home from the hospital, your helsestasjon will be the first to get in touch with you for all baby-related follow ups.
The helsestasjon does NOT want you to come in with your sick child; this is strictly meant for following up on physical, motoric, and mental development. So do not confuse it with a pediatrician’s practice.
If your baby or child is sick – you guessed it – call your fastlege (or legevakt/emergency room when it is an emergency!).
I grew up with the idea that an ob-gyn would follow up my pregnancy. Not in Norway.
You actually don’t need to see an ob-gyn at all when you are pregnant in Norway – or ever really, except for if your fastlege considers it necessary.
So there is not really much to say about the role of the ob-gyn in Norwegian maternity care – because they don’t really play a role.
I know! It was difficult for me to understand as well.
When you are pregnant in Norway, you need to understand
- Public health care in Norway
- The role of your fastlege (general practitioner)
- The role of your helsestasjon (health center)
Once you understand the different roles those play, being pregnant in Norway suddenly doesn’t seem so confusing anymore.
If you want to know more about all pregnancy check-ups that are done in Norway you find more information about those at Helse Norge.