A newcomer’s guide to pregnancy and early parenthood in Canada: Part two
By Dara Poizner
Posted on April 19, 2021
Click here to read part one of this article, which discusses healthcare services and prenatal health.
Many expectant parents come up with a birth plan before the child is due to be born. A birth plan is shared with your healthcare providers and describes your preferences for childbirth, including how the newborn will be cared for immediately after. Although not everything can be planned, making decisions in advance can relieve some of the anxiety surrounding a time that many people are nervous about.
In your birth plan, you can write about things like:
- How you want to manage pain during labour and delivery
- Who you want to be present during the birth
- Your thoughts about medical intervention
- Procedures you would like for the newborn baby
There are also a few options for where to give birth: in a hospital, at home, or in a birthing centre. The option that is best for you will depend on your medical needs and personal preferences, including which type of care provider will be delivering the baby (for example, doctors do not attend home births).
After the baby is born, you will need to register the birth in the province or territory they were born in to get a birth certificate.
Health after pregnancy and childbirth
For both the newborn child and the person who has given birth, there are specific health considerations you should discuss with your care provider. Important aspects of a child’s health include:
- Infant nutrition. Many people breastfeed their babies, but there are other options if you cannot or do not want to do so.
- Infant sleep. Newborns sleep most of the time, but for short periods. A baby’s sleep schedule will change with age.
- Vaccination. Making sure your child is immunized according to schedule is the best way to protect them from several serious illnesses. See “A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination” from the Government of Canada website to learn more.
As a new parent, it is important to look after your own health as well as that of the child’s. Postpartum is the period after giving birth where the body adjusts to not being pregnant and recovers from pregnancy and childbirth. A healthcare provider can give you specific advice for how to care for your body during recovery, including letting you know when it is okay to get back to regular activities like exercise. According to HealthLinkBC, your body will likely feel sore for several days and very tired for several weeks after giving birth. Ways to care for yourself during this time include:
- Trying to sleep when the baby does
- Drinking extra fluids if you are breastfeeding
- Getting support from people who can do chores or bring food for you
- Getting out of the house for short periods of time
While having a baby can be an exciting and wonderful time, it is also normal to experience difficult emotions. After giving birth, many people deal with postpartum anxiety or depression.
For people who have been affected by pregnancy loss or infant death, there are supports available. This article from HuffPost Canada contains links to resources and provincial organizations that support people through the loss of a pregnancy or infant.
Working people who are pregnant, have just given birth, or are new parents may want to take time off from their jobs. This gives parents time to prepare for or recover from childbirth and spend time with the newborn.
In Canada, people with insurable employment can apply for maternity and parental benefits through the Employment Insurance (EI) program, which gives temporary financial help to unemployed workers.
- Maternity benefits are available to someone who is pregnant or has recently given birth.
- Parental benefits are available to parents of newborn or newly adopted children.
- The person who has given birth may be eligible for both maternity and parental benefits.
Maternity benefits are available for a maximum of 15 weeks: they can start as early as 12 weeks before the birth is expected and end as late as 17 weeks after the actual birth.
There are two types of parental benefits to choose from: standard or extended. There are some differences depending on your circumstances, but generally:
- With standard benefits, you can receive 55% of your average weekly earnings for up to 35 weeks.
- With extended benefits, you can receive 33% of your average weekly earnings for up to 61 weeks.
In the past, childcare was considered as mainly a woman’s role, and only new mothers were expected to take time off work. Now, it is common for new fathers to take time off work as well. See this article from Dad Central to learn about the benefits of taking a paternity leave and how to plan for it.
Resources for newcomers
Best Start—a resource centre for pregnancy, new parenthood, and early childhood—has lots of general information for newcomers. There are resources available in multiple languages about many subjects including breastfeeding, drugs and alcohol, and child development.
The Interim Federal Health Program can provide temporary healthcare coverage for refugees.
The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program funds community programs across the country to help vulnerable people with their pregnancies. The online directory provides a list of available programs, including some specifically for immigrants and newcomers.
A few regional and local resources
- Diversity Liaisons Program from Birth & Babies is an online resource by Alberta Health Services. The program provides community outreach and education to newcomers, including multilingual and plain English language resources.
In British Columbia:
- The BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver offers Maternity Care for New Immigrants and for those who do not have provincial Medical Service Plan (MSP) coverage.
- The Midwives Association of British Columbia offers Immigrant & Refugee Care.
- Healthy Babies Healthy Children is a program for new parents in Toronto facing challenges, including newcomers Canada.
- Welcome to Parenting is an online educational program that teaches new parents about important topics and helps them connect with other new parents in Toronto.
There are also benefit programs for low-income households to offset the increased cost of food during pregnancy and/or infancy, including:
- Manitoba: Healthy Baby | Child and Youth Programs
- New Brunswick: Prenatal Benefit Program
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement
Note that this is not an exhaustive list of available resources and programs in Canada.
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