Being Pregnant at KAUST

By | April 15, 2013

UPDATE: Please read the updated version of this post, including information about the new on-campus service provider.

3-course meals for 2 at the IMC

Before we moved here, I remember scouring the internet to find info about having a baby in Saudi or at KAUST. I wanted to know if I would have options and if it was safe. I wanted to know if it would fit my philosophies and if I would look back and be happy that I had a kid here. I remember searching and finding pretty much nothing that would ease my fears or at least make me feel more informed. It wasn’t until I arrived here and started talking with new parents that I started to understand what it’s like. So, this blog post is for the former me… and for all the people out there that are searching like I was!

Being pregnant and having a baby at KAUST is like having a baby in the West. We have good, highly-trained medical professionals and safe facilities. My grandmother had a baby in India in the 1950s and before I moved here I wondered if there would be similarities. Let me be clear: my experience was nothing like hers.

Here are a few questions I had before we moved here, and some answers for you:

Is KAUST a good place to sart a family?
KAUST is a great place to start a family – and a lot of people are! There are currently 120-something women pregnant out of the approximately 5000 people who live at KAUST. Pregnant women are well supported – there is a clinic here on the compound where you can have most of your prenatal check-ups. There is a full-time OB (and she’s lovely!) and a 24-hour emergency room and ambulance.

How far is the nearest hospital? Is it any good?
As I said before, there is a clinic on the compound. This is good for check-ups, blood work, ultrasounds etc. Babys are not delivered here (except in the case of emergency) rather they are transferred by ambulance to the International Medical Center in Jeddah. The IMC is about 1.5 hours away (depending on traffic). This is a bit farther than I liked being from the hospital and I did worry about complications. The IMC is a very good hospital – it’s new, with good highly-trained doctors, and friendly, helpful nurses.

What is it like to deliver at the IMC?
I had mixed feelings. I always felt very safe, and in case of emergency, I’m sure they would have gotten me through just fine. They also had very good service – it was like staying in a 5-star hotel. I had my own room with a pull-out couch for my husband, and they brought us (both) extravagant 3-course meals. I had a normal delivery and it was standard to stay for two full days – I think you stay longer if there are complications/c-section. The nurses were helpful and everyone seemed to take excellent care of my baby. They didn’t give my baby a bottle, and took him away to the nursery for about 2-hours a day to get him checked by the pediatrician (I would have liked him to not be gone so long, though).

The downside for me was that, as crunchy granola kind of girl, I wanted to have a crunchy granola kind of birth. I would have liked to given birth in a tub with soft music and a doula by my side. There really aren’t options like this. I was only given the option to have a standard hospital birth – no tub, no doula, no soft music… heck, I didn’t even have a birthing ball (actually I brought my own, but the baby came so quickly I didn’t get a chance to use it!).

I did still have my heart set on a natural birth. I didn’t want an IV or drugs, or medical interventions. This was definitely a problem for the delivering doctor. She simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t want an epidural and seemed very concerned that I would want to put myself through “unnecessary pain”. I absolutely insisted on skipping the pain and induction meds, though I did give in and take some breaths of nitros oxide near the end. but the doctor did get her way and do some minor medical interventions which I told her I was really hoping not to have. In the end, she convinced me that they were “medically necessary” and I gave her permission… though I still have my doubts about how necessary they really were.

So, overall it was a good, safe experience. It just wasn’t the birth I’d gone for if I had been given more options.

What’s it like to be a new parent at KAUST?
There are tons of young families for a good reason – it’s a safe, easy place to raise kids. It’s hard to find organic foods and good quality baby products (the baby food is pure sugar and there aren’t really any options for green-diapering). There are a few mommy-groups which you can join, as well. Also, you can bring kids anywhere, which is a huge help.  KAUST is not well-equipped for feeding and diapering. Good luck finding a changing table in most buildings, and If you’re planning to breastfeed in public, I’d just be careful not to show too much (err.. any?) skin. I tend to bring a (pumped) bottle with me when I go out on compound or in Jeddah. That said, I understand that you can breastfeed in the women’s prayer rooms all over Jeddah.

On the subject of breastfeeding, Is there a La Leche League rep nearby?
Yes! La Leche League is an international nonprofit that helps support women who are breastfeeding. While there is not (yet!) a LLL group at KAUST, there is a rep and a group that meets in Jeddah. If you are struggling to breastfeed, you should really get in touch. For more info go to:


…Well, with my mommy-brain those are the only questions I can think of for now. Do you have any questions about being/becoming a parent here? Post it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!