Having a Baby in Puerto Rico

It’s been just over 6 months that we welcomed our son, Atticus Edward, into our lives and our world was forever changed. The sweetest, most loving, beautiful & happy baby boy, Atticus is the greatest joy we’ve ever known. Broc and I absolutely love being parents and are so lucky to be able to spend almost every waking moment with him! I could (and will) go on and on about all things baby A, but for this post I wanted to talk about my experience giving birth in Puerto Rico, as several people have asked me about it since he was born.

High Risk Pregnancy?

First and foremost, the decision to have him here over in the states was not final until I was about 25 weeks pregnant. Because of my age (38), we were worried I might have a high-risk pregnancy- so I saw an OBGYN both in PR and in Arkansas throughout my 1st and 2nd trimester. But after all the tests for me and baby came back normal and I wasn’t experiencing any abnormal symptoms, and we liked our doctor here and the care I was getting up to that point, we felt comfortable with the decision to have him on the island. It’s where we live after all, where our dogs are, where all our stuff is- and we didn’t want to uproot our lives if it wasn’t necessary. Since we’d recently moved to Condado, a neighborhood in the capital of San Juan, and our condo is literally right across the street from Ashford Presbyterian Hospital, we were confident that all would be fine. And for the most part it was!

Proximity to Birth Hospital?

For anyone else facing the decision of having a baby in Puerto Rico verses stateside, things like how close you live to the hospital should be a big factor. It’s not exactly easy to get around here, much less get anywhere quickly, so if you live outside of San Juan I would recommend having a plan to stay near the hospital if at all possible. And while I can’t personally speak to the quality of care at hospitals elsewhere on the island, I do know you’ll find the most experienced and English-speaking doctors and nurses in the city. Also, Atticus came early for us- at 38 weeks- and I was already 6 cm’s dilated by the time I even knew I was in labor and he was born 4 hours later! If we’d still been living in Palmas Del Mar, which is over an hours’ drive from San Juan, I’m not sure we would’ve made it in time!

¿Que qué?

Beyond proximity to your birth hospital, there are other stresses related to having a baby in Puerto Rico you might want to consider. If you live here already, you know that things like getting a driver’s license or filing your taxes are time consuming, confusing and in many cases just downright exasperating, and having a baby here is no different! We had to schedule a hospital admission tour and prepay for everything upfront, which of course took forever. You get to tour the various labor and delivery rooms beforehand and pay for the one you want- strange but not a big deal- but you also have to pay for random things like the scrubs your husband will wear when he’s in the delivery room and even the “newborn baby kit’ that includes the blanket, gown and diapers he’ll wear after he’s born. In the states all those things are included and covered by insurance but that’s not the case in Puerto Rico. In fact, if you don’t pay for your epidural before you go into labor I’m pretty sure you’re out of luck, at least that’s how it was explained to me! (So do your tour and pay for everything as early as you can!!!)

Find your expert

Which brings me to the single greatest piece of advice I could give my expat friends considering having a baby in Puerto Rico- hire a reputable, English-speaking doula! I didn’t even know what a doula was before getting pregnant and talking to others who have had babies here- but the one I hired was exceptional! She prepared us for everything we would need to do and was there with us the entire time I was in labor and after. She recommended the best labor room, the best pediatrician (who you also need to select and notify beforehand, especially if you’re having a boy and want him circumcised!) and all the details you’ll need to know to obtain a birth certificate, just to name a few. Carmen was literally a life-saver and helpful in far more ways than how to breathe while giving birth!

The bright side

The pros of having a baby in Puerto Rico? I’ve heard it’s a lot cheaper than in the states, but since he was my first baby I don’t have anything to compare that to. I think we spent less than $1k for everything but we also have good insurance (BCBS) so not sure if that’s the case for everyone. We also really loved the NICU unit at El Presby, although I pray you don’t have to experience that! Atticus had a bad case of jaundice that required him to be put under lights and on heavy antibiotics 5 days after he was born b/c his bilirubin levels skyrocketed after we brought him home. The nurses there were wonderful and I think it’s the only neonatal facility on the island. I’m also very proud to say I have a native Puerto Rican baby, even though his birth certificate and vaccination card are all in Spanish! 🙂 We’re excited to raise him here and give him the gift of being bilingual from a very early age. We love his pediatrician, and Puerto Rican’s LOVE babies. He gets so much attention and “God Bless You’s” just from going to the grocery store! Plus, the weather is always nice and you only need winter clothes for traveling!

In reality, the pain, stress and worry you go through beforehand are immediately forgotten the moment your baby is placed in your arms. You are literally holding a piece of your heart outside of your body and the rush of joy is so overwhelming, the who, what, when, where and how make no difference. Trust your gut- or your bump, I should say- and get ready for the happiest day of your life!