Tips for expats

Spanish words to know as an expat giving birth in Spain

Tips for expats

When I became pregnant with Enrique, my first child, in 2016, I thought I had a handle on the Spanish language and the whole babies-turn-your-life-upside-down way my life would change. I began reading books and forums in my native language on how to have a healthy pregnancy and newborn sleep habits ahead of my first prenatal check up, ready to appear informed and up for the challenge of being an expat mother in Spain.

It’s a good thing I took my husband, because the Spanish baby words - and even their slight regional variations - threw me for a loop. While the list of words you might come across is extensive, remember that it is not a complete list when it comes to giving birth in Spain. It’s also important to know that healthcare specifics are handle by local, regional governments (for example, I carried a small book with my vitals in Andalucia, but in Madrid that book, the cartilla de embarazada, is kept at your doctor's office). Pre-birth planning may include more than thinking about a birth plan and choosing a hospital: you may be brushing up on the Spanish pregancy terms below!


Pregnancy in Spain – Spanish words to know

Ácido Fólico – Folic Acid. Long considered a must during pregnancy, folic acid helps your baby’s spinal cord form properly and you’ll notice it grows your nails and hair, too. I was advised to start taking folic acid a month or two before planning on being pregnant and to continue all the way through the pregnancy. Another good word to know is yodo, iodo, which has a similar function.

Analisís de sangre / orina – Blood / urine analysis. Get used to needles, cups and doctors. If you have a normal pregnancy, you won’t have to do too many, but the first trimester is rife with testing. Tests will likely be ordered by your gynecologist, and you can expect to do one each trimester, as a minimum.

Cribado – Genetic testing done at 12 weeks. Stemming from the verb cribar, which means to narrow down, a cribado is a blood and urine exam performed to rule out genetic anomalies, such as Down Syndrome and Edwards Syndrome, plus confirm your blood group. In most parts of Spain, it is encouraged but not mandatory.

Curva de azúcar - glucose test: Gestational diabetes test administered between 24 and 28 weeks of your pregnancy to determine how your body handles glucose intake. This test can take several hours to complete, depending on your pregnancy and your immediate test results. I decided to do my test in the public system, which I got done at the same time as my second trimester blood and urine exams; on my second pregnancy I had an O’Sullivan, which is similar but only takes an hour, as I am low risk and do not have a history of diabetes in my family.

Diabetes gestacional – gestacional diabetes. Diabetes, which is an excess of glucose in the blood, can also ocurr in pregnancy due to high intakes of sugary products. It occurs in as many as 1 in 5 women and requires a special diet; it is usually diagnosed mid-pregnancy via the curva de azúcar or the Test de O’Sullivan.

Ecografía – Sonogram or ultrasound. These will be vaginal until about week 12, after which the baby will be large enough to detect through an abdominal sonogram. Expect to have 3-4 of these in a normal, non-risk pregnancy until the third trimester, after which you will be going to the doctor more frequently.

Embarazo de Riesgo – High-Risk Pregnancy. Women in Spain are considered high-risk pregnancies if they are over 35 years old, have a history of multiple miscarriages, are carrying multiples or have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.

Epidural / parto medicado - epidural / medicated birth. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but medicated births are quite normal in Spain.  As your due date nears, you will talk about these options with your doctor; should you choose to get an epidural, you will likely have to do additional stress tests to determine how much your body can handle.

Fecha del Parto – Due Date. This will be 40 weeks after the first day of your last missed period. Note that trimester (trimestre) and weeks (semanas) are important buzzwords, and that your baby’s gestational age is considered week+day, such as 11+4. Colloquially, most will say, salir de cuentas.

CUERPO_BAJA-1 pregnant woman belly

Grupo Sanguíno – Blood Type.

Hiperemesis gravídica – severe pregnancy-related nausea. While the nauseas can come at any time of the day (mine were in the evening around 7pm with my second pregnancy!), some women experience such extreme nauseu and vomiting that it has its own term. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to help you keep your lunch down.

Macrosomía -  fetal macrosomia. When a baby is diagnosed with macrosomia, s/he is typically larger than the norm. This general happens when a mother has gestational diabetes but genetics can play a part. Your doctor will follow your pregnancy more closely if you’re at risk of having a large baby.

Madre primeriza - first-time mother. After asking if it’s a girl or boy, most people will ask if it’s you’re first. The masculine form is padre primerizo.

Matrona – Midwife. Though you won’t see a midwife too often in the first trimester, you should ask your GP for an appointment with her so that she can measure your weight and blood pressure on each visit, then note it done for your records, plus conduct your pre-birthing classes. This person will be assigned to you if you are in the Social Security Regimen, though you can choose to see a private midwife if your insurance covers it, or you pay out-of-pocket. Matronas are often present in the birthing room, too.

Monitores - heart rate monitors.  From your eight month, you may be asked to get hooked up to these machines that register both your baby’s heart rate and whether or not you’re having contractions. This exam will get repeated at 39 weeks, at 40 weeks and after an induction or going into labor. Eat just before so that your baby will be active and bring a book – I once was hooked up for an hour because the midwife got pulled into a surgery!

Reposo absoluto – bedrest. Women in Spain who work can ask for their doctor to  put them on bedrest ahead of their birth (this is particularly true for high impact jobs like teaching or the health professions) or high-risk pregnancies may merit rest from the early stages. Follow your doctor’s instructions and don’t overdo it!

Síndrome del nido - the nesting period.

Streptococo - Group B Strep virus test. My doctor also tested me for the Group B Strep virus, to determine that you do not have an infection that could be passed on to your baby through the birth canal.

Suelo pélvico - pelvic floor. This is a buzzword these days as doctors now coach women on how to Kegel their way to strong pelvic floors. This is essentially the fibrous hammock that holds all of your innards in.

Tocólogo/a – Obstetrician. This doctor will lead you through the medical side of your pregnancy, from sonograms to the actual delivery if you so request. This person will be assigned to you if you are in the Social Security Regimen, though you can choose to see a private midwife if your insurance covers it, or you pay out-of-pocket. This word is extremely Andalusian, from what I can tell, so ginecologo/-a is a catch-all word for gynecologist.

Tósferina - whooping cough shot. Tosferina is a bacterial infection that can be fatal in recently born babies, so it’s important to get the shot between 28 and 38 weeks. From 28 weeks, your baby absorbs any medicine you put into your system through the placenta, as it has thinned significantly to adapt to your growing child. For this reason, your whooping cough shot happens so late in your pregnancy.

Toxoplasmosis – This may be way Spain-specific, but toxoplasmosis is a big, big deal: this parasitic disease can spread through toxoplasmos found in raw or undercooked meat, poorly washed fruits and vegetables or even cat feces. I’ve long let go of a rare steak and sushi, but jamón can also be dangerous for your unborn child. Your blood test results also cover whether or not you test positive or negative, so leave chorizo out of your diet until baby arrives.

Vacuna contra la gripe - flu shot. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to flus in pregnancy, so your doctor may suggest a flu shot. This is particularly true if your pregnancy is in its early stages during flu season (about October through March). I got one prior to becoming pregnancy with my second in late October and later into my first with a January baby.

Volante - stub, often for an appointment or an exam or a prescription. Depending on whether or not you go private or public for your care or your region, these can also serve as proof of an appointment for your employer.

While the vocabulary needed to be an expat mother in Spain is a whole new can of worms (I usually introduce myself by saying, “I’m Enrique’s mom), my best advice for those for whom Spanish is not their first language is to write down questions ahead of appointments to feel more prepared and look into support groups in your urban area. Motherhood is far and away a large learning curve - language and all!

Stay tuned for a follow up post about the words you need to know for childbirth and the cuarentena!

In the meantime, check out Typical Non Spanish's guide to the cost of giving birth in Spain:

Download Free Guide: Cost of Giving Birth in Spain

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