| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Having a baby in Dubai

Being a new parent in Dubai without family support is a daunting prospect

Debate team
Originally from the UK, Suzanne Randall is a stay-at-home mum to Madeleine, three and Alexander, one. In Dubai for five years, she currently lives with her family in Discovery Gardens. Both her kids were born in Dubai.

Former teacher, Jane Hinde has four children, Stefanie, seven, Rebekka, five, Alfie, three and George, six weeks. She lives in Umm Suqeim with her family and arrived in Dubai in 2008. Three of Jane’s children were born in Switzerland, and her youngest was delivered in Dubai.

Paula Harrington is co-owner of online baby store Bubs Boutique. She is mum to Sam, aged two (who was born in Dubai), and is about to have her second baby here too. She lives in Dubai Marina and has been in the UAE for three years.

Monica Malhotra is co-owner of the newly opened Kidville in JBR. The former banking consultant is mum to 18-month-old Anaya, and has only been in Dubai for nine months. She and her family live in Emirates Hills.

What got us talking…
Anyone who’s ever had a baby in Dubai has strong opinions on whether maternity care and getting used to life with a little one is better or worse than at home. From pre-natal support, to delivery room dramas and even finding that perfect pediatrician, Dubai can be challenging, to say the least. We chatted to four mums over delicious cakes and coffees at St Moritz Café, Mall of the Emirates.

How does Dubai compare to other places in terms of delivery care?
Jane: I had three of my babies in Switzerland and George was born here. I found both places pretty similar, although in Switzerland, the general experience was less clinical. Here, it seems to be far more like you would see it in American films, with lots of green, sterile surgical material everywhere. The service is great, though. When George was born, I loved the fact that I could order food to my room at any hour of the day. I remember eating delicious, fresh sandwiches at 2am!

Suzanne: I think we’re really lucky in Dubai. One of my friends who recently had a baby in the UK told me that she spent the first stages of labour in a disused hospital office – the nurses wheeled a bed in there because there was no room for her on the wards. Ultimately, the medical care was good, but she found the midwives very over-worked and said it wasn’t a relaxing experience. I’ve had excellent experiences in Dubai. If anyone asks me if they should go home to have a baby, I usually advise them to stay here.

Paula: People love to share their nightmare birth stories, but I get emotional when talking about my delivery experience here because it was so good. I had Samuel at the American Hospital and couldn’t fault it.
Monica: I think Dubai’s system is very similar to the US. Anaya was born in New York, and I had an excellent experience there – very similar, I think, to friends who have delivered here. Traditionally, there is no aftercare in the form of daily visits from the midwife, unlike the UK. You spend two days in hospital for a normal birth – three days for a C-section – and you get sent home with a big manual on every aspect of your baby’s care.

Has it been easy meeting other new mums here?
Jane: Yes. I went along to the Bumps and Babes group and met all my friends there. But it was daunting. I walked into a room where there were about 50 women who all knew each other, and I was the odd one out. Thankfully, I managed to sit down next to two ladies and we hit it off straight away. We then broke away from the group and started to do our own things together. I’ve also met new friends through my daughter’s nursery.

Monica: I think I’ve had it easier than most because I have family in Dubai. But I haven’t really made friends on my own yet. I work, so I haven’t made the most of the ‘mummy’ groups, but I do have a nice, core group that I can get together with.

Paula: I was pregnant on arrival and I hadn’t developed a proper network of friends by the time Samuel was born, so it was quite hard. I remember calling my friends in the UK in tears, saying; ‘Oh my God! My life has changed!’ However, I met a couple of friends through my antenatal class and then I joined BuggyFIT – which became my lifeline. Just having fresh air, exercise and meeting new people, really helped, especially as I’d put on so much weight from sitting around and eating cake at Lime Tree Café!

Does Dubai overdo the pre-natal testing and scans compared to other countries?
Paula: There was a scan I missed here because I was travelling, and I remember getting very upset about it. Then I spoke to a very straight-talking Irish friend who reminded me that the scan I’d missed wasn’t even available to women three years previously – and why was I getting into such a panic? You do feel that you need to do every single scan. But I did enjoy the peace of mind it gave me.

Jane: I didn’t enjoy the last stage, I must admit. My doctor wanted me to be in the clinic to have the baby’s heart monitored every single day. It was because George was 10 days late, but all the same, I thought it was a bit much. I could feel him moving regularly, and there wasn’t a complication. So in the end, I didn’t go in every day – and ended up feeling guilty about it!

Suzanne: The more scans the merrier, I say. In the UK, you only get two scans – one at 12 weeks, and one at 20 weeks. But I’m at an age where it’s better to be safe than sorry. Both my pregnancies have resulted in complications, and with Alex, I decided to go to Al Wasl hospital because I wasn’t happy with the private service I was getting. They were absolutely wonderful. The first time I went in there, I was in tears because I was so worried, and a lovely local lady came and put her arms around me, asked why I was crying, and then sat me down and fed me chocolate! After that, I was scanned straight away, and they looked after me from the 15th week of my pregnancy. I spent the last three weeks on bed rest at Al Wasl, and Alex was born at 35 weeks. If I have another baby here, I’ll definitely go back to Al Wasl.

What’s the best thing about life in Dubai with a small baby?
Suzanne: The fact that babies are welcome everywhere. Dubai embraces family life, and instead of frowning at a baby who is crying, people will come and offer you their assistance. I remember one time when Maddy was tiny, we had friends staying and I booked us a table at PierChic, but when I got there, I was told that children weren’t allowed in the restaurant. Of course, because this is Dubai, they immediately accommodated us and thankfully, Maddy slept peacefully throughout the entire meal.

Jane: I remember taking Rebekka out in her pram in Switzerland and she started yelling because she wanted a feed. As I was getting the last of my purchases, an older woman sidled up and peered into the pram. I thought she was going to tell me what a lovely baby I had. But no. She said; ‘You shouldn’t be out with your baby. It should be at home. It’s disturbing everyone!’ I just burst into tears. I went to Zuma the other day – and you wouldn’t necessarily think of taking a baby in there – and they actually have highchairs.

Paula: In the UK, you wouldn’t approach someone else’s’ small child or baby, and you do get frowned at if they start making a noise in public. There are signs up outside some restaurants saying ‘No children under 12.’

Monica: Wow! I’ve never seen that.

Paula: Yes. But here, you go to a restaurant, and the waiters and waitresses go out of their way to make your children feel welcome, automatically rocking the pram for you, or taking the baby off for a little walk around the restaurant if they’re fed up with sitting in their high chairs.

Monica: That’s true! People here genuinely think your child is cute and want to help you. I guess New York is pretty similar to Europe. If a stranger approached me because of Anaya, I’d automatically wonder if they were a threat. But here, you don’t give it a second thought. I think it’s safer here compared to the States, which makes a big difference to your attitude as a parent.

What would be your advice for a mum-to-be or new mum in Dubai?
Suzanne: Make sure you have medical insurance and don’t be afraid to check out the government services. Ultimately, even the most straightforward pregnancy can result in an unforeseen complication, and unless your insurance company will cover it, you’ll end up with a big bill. Our first baby spent five days in the neo natal unit at the American Hospital – at Dhs5,000 per day!

Monica: Finding a good pediatrician isn’t easy. You have to shop around. The first time Anaya was sick, I took her to the nearest clinic, and the doctor told me he was going to give her an injection. When I asked what was in the injection, he actually started to tell me the procedure for giving an injection and not the content of the drug. We just refused his treatment and immediately went to the American Hospital, where we found another, much better, doctor.

Jane: Go along to a mums’ group and get chatting to other mums. Make the effort to make new friends but don’t limit yourself to just one group. Don’t listen too much to other people’s advice either, even if it is well meaning. Trust your instincts as a mum and talk to people, but keep your own council and perspective.

Paula: Don’t stress and feel you have to get out there and do a hundred activities. Be good to yourself and take advantage of the wonderful salons here. Go and enjoy a relaxing manicure and pedicure – or get yourself an indulgent massage. When the baby’s tiny, you can take them along and they just sleep through it!

By Joanna England
Time Out Dubai,

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