The Dutch (home) birth box

birth box

In light of Courtney’s latest post and her plan for a beautiful home birth, I thought to tell you about something special we have here in the Netherlands: the ‘birth box’. In our country, giving birth is considered a natural happening, not a medical one. Home births are still fairly common (around one in 8 women gives birth at home), but also if one chooses for a hospital birth, medical intervention is kept at an absolute minimum (unless, obviously, it is needed because of complications, or the wish for anaesthetics).

During pregnancy, women are seen by midwives. Every neighbourhood or small town has a midwife unit and regular pregnancy checks are taken here. Only if there’s a medical indication, are women directed to an obstetrician-gynecologist. When the pregnancy is straight-forward and without complications, and there is no indication of risk whatsoever, women have the option (and are even gently encouraged!) to give birth at home.

To prepare for home birth and aftercare, the insurance company sends a box with medical supplies and care products to each pregnant lady in the Netherlands. You will find things like mattress protector sheets, an umbilical cord clamp, cottonwool and compresses, disinfectants and, yes, those gigantic sanitary towels too. The insurance company usually includes a cute baby gift along with the box. It always made me so excited, to receive the birth box!

If aiming for a home birth, some other practical preparations need to be made, for instance, the bed needs to be lifted to 80 cm — this is a requirement for the protection of the backs of the midwife and the maternity nurse who will assist during the birth. The (bed)room will need to have easy access to running water, the room will have to be accessible by emergency services, the doorbell needs to be in perfect working order and the door needs to be clearly marked with the family name. You need a few buckets and bin-bags, good lighting (and a flash-light just in case), hot-water bottles, a chamber pot, fresh towels and bed-linen and extra pillows. Plus the usual baby care products like nappies, clothes, and blankets — you know, the fun stuff!

Of course not everyone chooses to give birth at home. In fact, more and more mothers decide to go to a hospital or a special midwife-run birthing house. But most contents of the birth box are still being used, as after a hospital birth (and if there are no complications), mother and baby do not stay overnight but are sent home within a few hours. A maternity nurse will come over to your house immediately, and she will be back daily for the next 8 to 10 days, helping to take care of mother and baby (and taking over some household tasks if needed). A midwife will visit your home a few times during this period as well, to medically check the mother and her baby. Both the maternity nurse and the midwife will need the products of the home birth box (for instance, alcohol to clean the umbilical cord). So handy to have the essential products needed all there in a box! Any materials from the box that are not used will not go wasted — they can be donated to a special nonprofit organisation, which uses them to improve hygiene and safety during births in different projects all over the world.

I just visited my beautiful friend Vicky here in Amsterdam, who is now 36 ½ weeks pregnant, and is not sure yet if she will give birth at home or in the hospital. She is very relaxed about it though — because of the system, she can simply see how it goes and make the decision when she’s in early labour. She has everything set up in her bedroom for a birth at home, but if in the end she feels like she wants to go to the hospital, that is a perfectly fine possibility too. I think it is quite special, this system we have in the Netherlands! Wether one decides to deliver at home or in the hospital, birth is always considered a beautiful, natural happening, and (due to our wonderful postpartum care system) being comfortable and relaxed at home always plays a very big part of the experience.

xxx Esther

PS In Finland, every new mother is given a ‘starter kit’ by the government as they leave the hospital!


Comments (14)

March 13, 2017

Oh my, you are so very lucky!!
I really believe all my trouble snowballed from the way my first pregnancy was handled. It began with a ‘surprise’ pregnancy whilst taking a break from IVF. Because I was already in a system I was automatically referred to an obstetrician which began a road of more and more medical intervention resulting in an emergency caesarian and postpartum cardiomyopathy and lengthy hospitalisation with a newborn. I was told I shouldn’t risk a subsequent pregnancy and got around it with the help of a wonderful woman and her womb, we battled red tape for four years before she became pregnant with our baby and then.. I was diagnosed with breast cancer just 6 weeks before our baby was due and I’m positive all the IVF contributed to that diagnosis!! So, and this is a massive lesson, had I had my first baby in the Netherlands at home, naturally and with the support of my community and Country, I’m sure I’d have a very different story to tell. However, I would never give up the memory of witnessing our second born being birthed by his surrogate mother (a hypnobirth teacher) in the water and at home, as it should be. Magic x

Lara in London
March 13, 2017

Vicky, you look amazing! And Esther, this is such a great thing to share. How lovely to live in a culture that not only embraces natural birth and great support for new mamas, but also takes a very practical and positive approach to it as well. Seeing those items in your home must help to make the whole act of birthing a baby less foreign and more familiar. Well done to the Netherlands for such a smart system.

March 13, 2017

I’m curious about lifting the bwd to 80cm- we certainly don’t have that requirement in the UK for home births and I’m trying to work out what people do! Shove bits of wood under the legs sounds so unstable so there must be something else? What are the midwives expected to do – if it’s intermittent asculation then being a normal height wouldn’t matter,is there more that would be usual… Maybe physically supporting the woman would mean midwife couldnt sit on the bed too. Just thinking!

March 13, 2017

Oh also – the support for normal birth there sounds superb 🙂

March 13, 2017

Geegee, I know quite a few familie who used empty beer crates to lift the bed, but there are special ‘boosters’ you can rent! And Esther, in Scotland the Birth box like in Finland is just about to start too!

Esther in Amsterdam
March 13, 2017

Oh that is such good news for all new Scottish parents!!!

rita tavares desterro
March 13, 2017

Thanks for sharing that the birth is not considered a medical but a natural moment. The world need to read more of this kind of articles. Blessed

March 13, 2017

This just sounds lovely, we have nothing like that here at all… homebirths continue to be considered high risk and certainly when we had all our births at home I had to “prove” that I was exceptionally well and healthy. And in order to convince parents that having a home delivery is “extremely dangerous,” medical insurance would not cover it at all… it was cheaper to have a baby in private hospital with all the extra medical team there and every intervention, where they paid for everything than have a home birth with a midwife, that they didn’t cover at all. It didn’t phase me… it was well worth fighting for the birth I wanted, but it must be so much nicer not to have to fight for the choices we make.

March 13, 2017

Lovely post Esther, just how it really is. I delivered three times in the hospital with my midwife. It became more relaxed every time. The last time we left around 11pm to the hospital, our daughter was born around 1am and we were home around 3am. A natural relaxed birth (really – when my husband used my words to a friend they thought he was kidding). I love the choice we have. Although if a fourth would be born (you never know) I don’t know we would make it in time!

March 13, 2017

Indeed a nice post. Some correction for Finland. The box is send to the mother before the birth, not when they leave the hospital. Parents can chose if they want the box, that also functions as bed for the first weeks/ months or take the money.

This years design has been revealed some days ago.

Check it out 🙂

Esther in Amsterdam
March 14, 2017

Oh sorry for the mistake (and thanks for the correction!). I love this baby box idea (and this year’s contents look so cute!!) x

Sally Greenberg
March 13, 2017

This sounds so wonderful!!!! I particularly love the idea of being home almost immediately after the birth and receiving the mid wife visits including care of the mother and home – so caring and vital!!!!!

Kim ODowd
March 14, 2017

I loved reading this. Thanks for sharing, our little girl is due in just over 10 weeks & as we both have heart issues we’re heading for hospital. But I’m loving reading all the different birth journeys people are on. For some reason I love the part about the doorbell being in perfect order…not something I would have ever considered!! Thanks for sharing xxx

March 15, 2017

Wow! This is amazing. I’m so happy to have found this. My husband and I host a podcast in the States about home birth (, and it’s so fascinating to learn about the different ways home birth is experienced across the world. We haven’t encountered any circumstance like the one you described yet. It’s beautiful to read about how it’s supported so much in the Netherlands. Esther – would you be open to connecting further and sharing more of your perspective? Great post 🙂

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