A guide to pregnancy and giving birth in Kenya

25 July 2019

Having a baby is an exciting time but it can be overwhelming for expectant parents, and if you’re an expat in another country, there are lots of things to think about. So, where do you start? In this article, we’ve looked at some of the benefits and pitfalls of the public and private health systems in Kenya when it comes to pregnancy, to help you make that all-important decision. 

Private vs public 
Health care in Kenya varies greatly depending on where you are. In rural areas, healthcare is very basic and usually focussed on prevention and immunisation. The Kenyan government are introducing a universal health coverage programme including a maternity programme called Linda Mama. This programme aims to provide free maternity care for all Kenya’s female citizens and reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

The public health system in Kenya works by escalating more serious issues up the system. The first point of contact is a dispensary, which provides preventative medicine, basic health education and out-patient treatment for illnesses such as uncomplicated malaria. Dispensaries are run by nurses rather than doctors. 

Health centres are medium-sized facilities that can provide maternity care. However, if there are complications or you need a C-section, you’ll be escalated up the scale to a sub-district hospital. These are similar to health centres but usually have an operating theatre and are able to perform C-sections. 

Public health facilities are often crowded and confusing. However, treatment is cheap by Western standards. Healthcare facilities in Kenya have a reputation for not letting patients leave until they’ve paid – although this is illegal, it’s still common. 

Most expats choose to take out private health insurance schemes rather than use the public healthcare. Anyone who can afford to will use a private hospital in Kenya. There are private hospitals in most cities, but the well known international standard hospitals are in Nairobi and Mombasa.  

Many expats also choose to travel abroad when they find out they’re pregnant, either to their home country or to South Africa – which has the highest standard of healthcare in Africa and a better reputation for maternity care than many of its neighbours.

Prenatal care 
Private hospitals offer a prenatal package, where you schedule your appointments in advance. They often include your prenatal consultations, tests and scans, your delivery and your stay in hospital. This usually works out cheaper than paying for visits individually; however, you’re unlikely to have a dedicated obstetrician (OB) and will be seen by whichever OB is working at the time of your appointment. These packages usually cost around KSH 130,000, which also includes the cost of a routine delivery.

However, don’t be surprised if the costs don’t end there. It’s common for additional costs to be added on top of the package rate, such as meals, care for your baby, additional medical interventions or extended stays in hospital.

An individual prenatal visit to a private doctor that isn’t part of a package will cost a few thousand Kenyan Shillings, with additional costs for any tests and scans that you receive. An ultrasound can cost between KSH 600 and KSH 4,000. 

If you’d rather choose your own OB, there are many online forums and discussions that could help you decide. Take your time to research your OB and choose one that comes highly recommended. Or, if you’ve got your eyes on a particular hospital, you’ll need to ask which OBs work there, and decide if you’re happy with them treating you. 

Some hospitals in Nairobi and Mombasa offer maternity tours early in your pregnancy. These visits can help you to decide which hospital is right for you. You may be able to meet some of the medical staff and talk to patients about their experiences. 

Your delivery 
You’ll be able to discuss your birth plans with your OB at your prenatal check-ups. The international-standard hospitals in Mombasa and Nairobi will aim to give you the birth experience you want – whether that’s a private room, a water birth or a C-section. A normal delivery can cost between KSH 40,000 and KSH 130,000 and a C-section can cost between KSH 100,000 and KSH 260,000. You’ll often be able to choose whether you’d like an OB or midwife to be your primary health professional during your delivery.

Some women in Kenya choose to use a Doula throughout their pregnancy. A Doula provides non-clinical support before, during and after the birth and can help you get the delivery experience you want. They have lots of experience with pregnancy, birth and pregnancy systems. 

There are two types of Doulas in Kenya – a birth Doula, and a postnatal or postpartum Doula. A birth Doula will work with you during pregnancy and labour. They will usually do a follow up visit after you’ve had your baby to see how you’re settling. 

A postnatal or postpartum Doula will support you after the birth and support you through the challenges involved in breastfeeding. They’ll also help you with bathing your new baby, soothing them and help you to settle into the new life that comes with being a new parent. The cost of a doula varies, but is usually between KSH 15,000 and KSH 40,000, depending on how many sessions you have before and after delivery and how much the individual charges. 

Pregnancy and parenthood - cultural traditions in Kenya 
Traditions around pregnancy and parenthood vary widely across Kenya. Cultural practises include carrying your baby on your back and referring to mothers as ‘mama’ followed by the name of their baby. For example, if you name your baby Thomas, you’ll be referred to as ‘Mama Thomas’.

Breastfeeding is considered the norm in Kenya and is widely accepted in public. Traditionally, breastfeeding mothers will also be offered foods that are thought to boost milk production, including njahi (black-eyed peas) and uji (fermented porridge). 

Finding the support you need 
If you’re new to parenting and to the neighbourhood, it can be overwhelming if you don’t have your support network around. There are a number of mums’ groups that you can join where you’ll be able to connect with other new parents – as both locals and expats. You’ll be able to find out more about these groups and how to join them by asking your doctor or OB, and by doing some online research. 

Our World of Wellbeing hub contains lots of useful tips and information about being a parent abroad. Whether you’re about to have your first baby, or you’re moving your whole family to a new country, there’s plenty of advice about how to help things go smoothly. 

And if you’re ever unsure of anything, no matter where you are, we’ll always do our best to put you at ease. There’s a team of midwives on hand through our health information helpline who’ll be able to answer any questions you might have about your pregnancy. You’ll just need to call +44 (0)1892 556 753 between 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, until 4pm on Saturday and until 12pm on Sunday (UK time).

If you have any questions about making a claim with us or what your policy covers, you can call us anytime, day or night on +44 (0)1892 503 856. 

Sources: 
1. https://www.kenyabuzz.com/lifestyle/a-doula-for-every-mother-in-kenya/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthcare_in_Kenya 
3. https://www.expatriatehealthcare.com/expat-healthcare-in-kenya/ 
4. https://mumsvillage.com/pregnancy-parenting/nairobi-hospitals-maternity-packages/ 
5. https://www.tuko.co.ke/260724-7-maternity-hospitals-nairobi.html#260724 
6. http://trendinginkenya.com/how-much-does-pregnancy-ultrasound-cost-in-kenya/ 
7. https://www.everyculture.com/Ja-Ma/Kenya.html 
8. https://kenyayote.com/best-maternity-hospitals-kenya-giving-birth-packages-pregnancy-test/ 
9. https://cupofjo.com/2015/08/parenting-in-kenya/