I Gave Birth In A Public Hospital And Can’t Recommend It Enough

Motherhood brings unique joys and pains to every mum, and we are better off acknowledging that. In this series called Mum Truths, mums reveal their secret successes, miseries and gripes about parenting in a no-holds-barred first-person recount.

“So which hospital will you be delivering your baby in?’ 

This was a common question I got from friends and acquaintances after they found out I was pregnant. When I replied, “KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH)”, I was met with barely concealed surprise from my peers. 

“Oh, but why?” was a common follow-up question.   

Even when I answered truthfully – that it’s more affordable and as the largest maternal facility in Singapore, I believed KKH was where I would get the best care – I still got blank stares. 

I could understand my friends’ confusion. Many people in Singapore still believe there is a wide gulf between the level of care provided in public hospitals versus private hospitals, and if one can afford it, you’ll naturally opt for the latter. This is not just my own opinion. In a Reddit thread about the Singapore healthcare system, a Redditor wrote, “The stark difference between public and private hospital is super real… you get to witness how ‘class’ plays a part in not just healthcare but also one’s quality of life.”

In the same Reddit thread, other complaints lobbied at the public healthcare system in Singapore included long waiting times and doctors’ brash bedside manners. In my experience, the long waiting time can be mitigated with the Health Buddy app (applicable for SingHealth clinics only). The app enabled me to “check in” before my appointment time slot so that I could track how many people were ahead of me in the queue. That way, I didn’t have to spend too much unnecessary time in the waiting room and could get to the clinic just before the doctor was ready to see me. 

Another big complaint is that the level of service and quality of care provided in public hospitals is not as good as those in private hospitals. Of course, everybody’s perspective is shaped by their own experiences, and for me, everyone I encountered at KKH were nothing but kind and helpful – from the nurses and doctors to the administrative staff. Yes, you could definitely tell they were all busy but I never felt rushed or hurried along. 

Considering that KKH provides care for the majority of pregnant women and their babies in Singapore (over 14,000 each year according to their website), one would expect overworked, jaded staff who won’t give you the time of day. On the contrary, I was met with warm and sincere care at every step of my journey, from my first antenatal visit to the day I delivered my baby. 

During my three-night stay at the hospital, I found the nurses in the maternity ward to be extremely kind towards me and my baby. Because I was not producing enough colostrum at the time, my baby was at risk of being dehydrated and I was advised to top up his feed with formula. The nurses patiently sat with me at each feed, holding my baby in their lap to feed him with a cup, sip by little sip. When I was crying from the stress and exhaustion, they were also there to comfort me and offer encouragement. I felt very safe and at ease, knowing I was well taken care of. 

Because I delivered my baby in a public hospital, it meant doing away with frills provided at private hospitals such as an in-room mini-bar or a customised confinement menu. While these perks sound snazzy, to be honest, after a long and painful labour, all I cared about was having a clean bed and my own bathroom. Within a public hospital, you have the option to stay in a private room but it is subject to availability on the day of delivery. Thankfully, there was one available on the day I gave birth and while it didn’t have any fancy perks or luxurious trimmings, I did have my own bathroom, which was pretty much all I wanted.

All that said, however, there were some elements about my birth experience at KKH that I wish were different. While I was able to share my birth plan with my doctor and the labour ward team, there were certain elements of my plan that they were unable to accommodate due to hospital policy. For example, I was confined to a bed once my water broke and strapped to a fetal heartbeat monitor. My guess is they didn’t want me moving around (and potentially falling), which could increase their risk of liability. However, if I had been given the freedom to move around, I believe my labour process would have been shorter and more comfortable.  

When it came time to push, I could only labour on my back as I was told the nurses and midwives are trained only to assist mothers delivering in that position. I was hoping to be able to labour in different positions such as squatting or on all fours as I’d read that helps the birthing process. It took me over an hour of agonised pushing before my baby was delivered. 

Birth preferences aside, I enjoyed a high quality of care at KKH and it corresponds with the experience of some of my friends who also chose the public healthcare route. In fact, it was because of one of their rave reviews that convinced me to give birth to my first child at KKH.  

The point of this article is not to disparage anyone who has had negative encounters with the public healthcare system. Rather, I’m trying to demonstrate how the disparity between public and private hospitals in Singapore may not be as stark as we imagine. While I don’t deny there is room for improvement in our public healthcare system (for example, more flexibility when it comes to accommodating patients’ preferences), I still believe the quality of care received can be equal to, or at times even surpass, private healthcare.

Victoria Tan is a new mother-of-one navigating the weird and wonderful journey that is parenthood. Even amidst the sleep deprivation, breastfeeding woes and endless diaper changes, she’s finding joy in rediscovering the world through her son’s eyes.