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Parental leave in Denmark: Government wants ‘most choice possible’ for families

Denmark’s government says it is opposed in principle to controlling parental leave through legislation, but praised a recent proposal to tag set amounts of leave to each parent.

Parental leave in Denmark: Government wants 'most choice possible' for families
Labour and employment organisations in Denmark have proposed an updated model for parental leave, which complies with an EU directive on the area. Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Employment minister Peter Hummelgaard said on Friday that, despite the government’s reluctance to legislate on the area, an EU directive requirement means it will seek to agree a deal giving as much choice as possible for families.

Hummelgaard’s comments came following initial talks between parliamentary parties over reforms to Denmark’s parental leave system.

READ ALSO: Parental leave: How new agreement could change rules in Denmark

“In the government we are of the opinion that we must try to make the best of things and do this in a way that provides as much flexibility as possible for individual families,” Hummelgaard said in comments reported by news wire Ritzau.

The minister also took a swipe at the European Union, saying the government did not want “something pulled down over its head on the part of the EU”.

A preferable arrangement would be for labour organisations – trade unions and employer representatives – to negotiate parental leave terms, Hummelgaard said.

“But we are now faced with implementing this, so our goal is to make the best of it and ensure it brings as much equality with it as possible,” he said.

The EU directive in question requires mothers and fathers to each have at least nine weeks of so-called “earmarked” parental leave, meaning the two parents cannot transfer the leave from one to another.

An agreement announced last week between the Danish Trade Union Confederation (Fagbevægelsens Hovedorganisation, FH) and Confederation of Danish Employers (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) would set parental leave in Denmark at 11 weeks for both the mother and father or second parent.

Under the proposal formed by that agreement, the mother has a right to four weeks’ pregnancy leave prior to giving birth and both parents can take two weeks’ leave immediately after the birth.

That leaves a remaining earmarked 9 weeks, which can be taken at any time but are tagged to each parent, as are the initial 2 post-birth weeks. If one parent does not use all of their 11 weeks, those weeks lapse.

The proposal complies with the EU’s parental leave directive.

Hummelgaard expressed his backing for the agreement.

“We think the labour market organisations have put forward a very balanced and thorough proposal, which both falls in with what the directive demands and makes it as easy as possible for parents to arrange parental leave the way they want,” he said.

The proposal has elicited a divided response since its announcement last week, with backers saying they promote equality and critics saying they interfere with childcare decisions in the private sphere.

Conservative parties are largely opposed to earmarking leave for each parent, meaning that parties on the left will likely be required to vote through any bill to implement it.

Member comments

  1. Families are supported by an au pair
    as they can continue with their work without any problem. It is an opportunity to have a right hand with our children

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FAMILY

What to expect when you’re having a baby in Denmark

Being pregnant abroad can be a daunting prospect, as you navigate a life-changing event away from familiarity. The Local's Emma Firth had her second child in Copenhagen and talks through what you can expect in a Danish pregnancy and beyond.

What to expect when you're having a baby in Denmark

Pregnancy can be both an exciting and anxious time, so when you’re navigating a new healthcare and maternity system, as well as a different language, the more information you have the better. Here’s an outline of what you can expect if you have a baby in Denmark. This may vary between regions and if you have a multiple pregnancy or health conditions.  You can also find information from sundhedsstyrelsen.

First trimester

When you find out you are pregnant, the first thing to do is ring your doctor and tell them. You will need to have a CPR (personal registration) number and yellow health card. The receptionist will ask how many weeks pregnant you are and then book you in for a blood test and take a urine sample at around 7-8 weeks. 

At 6-10 weeks, you have an appointment with your doctor where you talk about your family’s health history.

In Denmark, you are advised to take vitamin D and 40mg of iron every day throughout pregnancy and folic acid for the first trimester.

If you are pregnant during winter, you are offered a flu jab and since 2019, pregnant women in Denmark are offered the whooping cough vaccine in the third trimester.

During these early weeks you need to book your 12-week scan at your nearest hospital which you can do online or by phone. If you’re unsure you can ask your doctor how to do this but they can’t do it for you.

Before the 12-week scan, you are advised to go to a drop-in blood test centre at the hospital, as part of the screening test to assess your chances of having a baby with a condition such as Down’s Syndrome. As everything in Denmark is electronic, when the hospital knows your CPR number, the blood test centre can see what you need the test for. This blood test is then used, along with the measurements from your 12-week scan, to show whether your baby may be born with a certain condition.

12-week scan (11-13 weeks)

You can take your partner to this appointment at hospital and it’s the first chance for you to see your baby. This is a straight forward ultrasound where the sonographer will assess the baby and give you more of an exact due date.

Second trimester

At 13-18 weeks you have your first midwife appointment, which is at a midwife centre rather than your doctor’s surgery.

When you arrive, you need to take a urine test and using a test strip provided, check the colour on your test strip with a chart. You then tell the midwife if it is outside the normal range.

This is to check for a sign of infection or pre-eclampsia (although the latter is very rare before 20 weeks). 

The midwife will take your blood pressure, bump measurements, listen to your baby’s heart beat and answer any questions you may have.

20-week scan

You book this yourself at the hospital and again, your partner can come along.

This is the scan where you can find out the gender of your baby. It is also a slightly longer scan than at 12-weeks, as the sonographer takes measurements of your growing baby. If everything looks straight forward, you won’t have another scan before the birth.

Third trimester

There are more appointments during your third trimester as you reach the end of your pregnancy. 

At week 25 and 32 you have a doctor’s appointment. You may also be offered an iron test and gestational diabetes test during this time.

At week 29, 35, 37 and 39, you go to the midwife centre where you follow the same procedure of testing your urine, and the midwife will listen to your baby’s heartbeat, measure your bump and check your blood pressure. Your midwife will also talk to you about your pregnancy, your well being, your birth plan and breastfeeding.

Week 41 + 2 days you get called by the midwife to see how things are going.

Week 41 + 4 days you go into hospital to talk about induction, where you are offered a hormone tablet to induce labour.

Labour

There are free antenatal classes available in English at certain hospitals in Denmark or you can pay privately for some classes. Here you are talked through the different forms of pain relief on offer when you go into labour. These include a warm bath, birthing pool, acupuncture, sterile water injections, gas and air and epidurals. An enema is also routinely offered, so be sure to opt-out of this if you don’t want it. One friend was given quite a shock.

When you have given birth in Denmark, you are greeted with a tray of food, drink and Danish flag – of course. After bonding time, the midwives will check the weight and health of your baby. If everything is straight forward, you could be discharged as early as four hours after birth, which was my experience. In other circumstances, you are able to stay on a maternity ward overnight.

Maternity hotel (Barselshotel)

In Denmark there is a place called a barselshotel, where new parents can go with their newborn baby to rest, establish feeding, be given meals and have midwives on call. Some regions offer this for free to parents who need it. There are also private maternity hotels, where parents can pay to stay for longer and even with the baby’s siblings.

Postnatal

A midwife will usually visit you the day after you get home with your baby.

Within 72 hours of your baby being born you have to go to a postnatal clinic, where all newborn babies are checked for congenital diseases by taking a sample of blood from the heel. A midwife will also check how you are healing and how feeding is going.

By day 7 your health visitor (sundhedsplejerske) will visit to weigh your baby and check everything is okay. This same health visitor will come throughout your baby’s first year, usually at day 7, day 14, three weeks, 2 months, 5 months and 8-10 months.

Your health visitor offers support for you and your baby, can answer any questions, give advice and check your baby’s development.

You also have a doctor’s appointment at week 5 and week 8 to check both mother and baby.

Mother’s groups

Your health visitor signs you up to a mother’s group and you can choose a Danish or international group of mothers in your area who have all given birth around a similar time to you.

The first meeting is usually arranged by the health visitor and after this, it is decided among the group.

Vaccinations

Your baby’s first vaccinations start at 3 months and you book this through your doctor.

Read here for the childhood vaccination programme in Denmark.

Naming your baby

You must name your baby before they reach six months old, otherwise you face a fine. You can read all about the process and rules here.

Parenthood in Denmark

My personal experience was one of great care and reassurance. There is a relaxed, trusting approach to having a baby in Denmark, from trusting your body and your baby to know what to do; right to trusting that your baby can nap safely in a pram outside. 

Denmark has some of the highest rates of breastfeeding in Europe and there is support given to this and it’s very acceptable to see mothers breastfeeding in public.

There is a big focus on developing your baby physically, with a lot of waking time spent on their tummy, encouraging the rubbing of the backs of arms and legs to get the baby feeling all parts of their body. My health visitor even showed me how to hold my baby upside down at three weeks. This progresses to giving your baby lots of physical and outside play and outside naps, creating resilience and strength which is something my children greatly benefited from.

Having a baby in a different country from your own has it challenges, such as discovering the hard way that buses only accept two prams at a time, or that some shops and cafes don’t allow prams inside, as you glance anxiously outside the window. 

Joining groups, such as the free babysalmesang at churches, and making new parent friends, Danish or international, can be a huge help. And in anticipation of getting a bout of homesickness, it is a good idea to start your baby’s passport application early on.

As with every transition in life abroad, parenthood does get easier and opens up a whole new world.

Useful vocab:

Pregnant: Gravid

Midwife: Jordemoder

Health visitor: Sundhedsplejerske

Birth: Fødsel

Breastfeeding: Amning

Maternity leave: Barsel 

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