Most expectant moms in Holland don't see an obstetrician, but are instead referred by their family doctor to a local midwife practice. Doctors only intervene in high-risk cases or if complications arise during delivery. Dutch women decide whether they want a home or hospital delivery. I was surprised to learn that more than half of the women at my midwife's practice deliver at home. In fact, all expectant mothers in Holland are required to pick up a kraampakket that includes all of the medical supplies necessary for a home birth. If you choose not to deliver at home, your midwife will make a house call to check on the progress of your labor and determine the ideal time for you to go to the hospital.
Even if you opt for a hospital birth, it's unlikely that you'll get an epidural. Epidurals are usually only given if it's convenient for the anesthesiologist's schedule (people often joke about the Dutch 9-to-5 epidural) or if an obstetrician determines it is necessary. Giving birth naturally remains the ideal for the vast majority of Dutch women. As my due date approached, I became more open to the idea, and in the end, no one was more surprised than I was to realize I had given birth to our son without any painkillers.
If a mother gives birth early in the day without complications, she and the baby may go home in as little as two hours. Then the unique Dutch system of kraamhulp (maternity home care) is set into motion. For seven days we had a nurse come to our home, a benefit covered by insurance. Not only did she provide medical care, but she also cleaned our apartment, cooked, and instructed us in basic parenting skills.
Local custom: Another important duty of the nurse is to manage the flow of visitors and make the traditional snack to celebrate a birth: beschuit met muisjes, which literally translates as "biscuits with mice." The "mice" are actually miniature licorice bits with blue-and-white coating for boys, pink-and-white for girls.