In general, Russians are child-loving people. Family relationships tend to be close and children in particular are cherished. As demonstrated in centuries of literature, art, and folklore, motherhood in Russia is held in special reverence. The traditional values of Russians families mean that motherhood is the main mission of a woman.
In Soviet times the age of women at first childbirth was 20 to 24. The age limit is going up now. This is explained by economic reasons, increasing education and career opportunities for women in Russia as well as identity issues. However most women in Russia tend to give birth to the first child before 30 y.o. Child free movement is a relatively new phenomenon here and already has many adepts, especially in big industrial cities. The mainstream opinion though is that the children are a necessary and desirable part of the Russian family.
Woman’s natural femininity and maternal attitudes have always been meaningful in Russian cultural tradition. Russian image of mother is of a woman who is ever-loving and always ready to sacrifice for her children. Virtuous characters of women mothers able to endure endless work and hardship in order to provide for family needs are frequently described in Russian literature. It explains why Russian children generally feel closer to their mothers than to their fathers.
Desirable pregnancy is usually what makes a Russian woman feel happy. Family and friends are often ecstatic and filled with excitement. Pregnancy declaration is greeted with smiles, kisses and congratulations. Women friends and workmates immediately become intimately close to a pregnant woman. They give advice on nutrition and care; recall their own pregnancy and giving birth to a child, share contacts of doctors and clinics.
Russian legislation grants paid 70 days, maternity leave before birth and 70 days after birth. It prohibits using female labor for heavy, dangerous or unhealthy work as well as night and overtime work. Besides, women have a right to be transferred to a lighter work at the same average rate of pay. Pregnant women are restricted from dismissal at the initiative of an employer. In reality women often stay at work or perform the same amount of work for economic reasons.
By law pregnant women receive free prenatal care and necessary examinations and tests. All pregnant women are required to register their pregnancy with a zhenskaya konsultatsiya - a city gynecological office that provides pre-natal care (scans, ultra sound tests, blood tests, baby's heart rate monitoring and midwife appointments) as well as the papers necessary for acceptance to a maternity hospital. The common medical practice in Russia is that one doctor guides you for nine months, another takes over once you are in labor. A number of private clinics offering prenatal care and delivery options is growing. The average cost of prenatal services in Moscow is $2500.
A tradition of birth partnership is gaining popularity in Russia now and both state and private clinics have trainings for future mom and dad where they learn to act at labor and take care of the infant. Apart from the assistance, caress, emotional and psychological support birth partnership provides, Russian couples place the desire to have control over actions of medical staff first when they decide in favor of partner childbirth. Not all Russian women feel positive about the presence of a support person, usually a husband during labor and decline partner childbirth. Around 70 % of women in Russia refuse to have a partner present during labor because they feel afraid for their husband, feel personally embarrassed, want to have a private experience and think it would negatively affect their sex life. Only 17 % of women agree to have a companion present during labor. Many Russian women view childbirth as a medical process that should not involve social interaction.
Besides, men typically refuse or are hesitant about partner childbirth because they fear that the critical situation of childbirth will expose them as absolutely helpless. They devote time to other important issues when their wives are in maternity hospitals, they do repairing of children's room and buy all important things for the baby.
In Russia mother gives birth to children in special state clinics called “maternity houses” rather than in regular hospitals. Private contracts at delivery center are what Russians choose for the reasons of safety and better care. A standard birthing contract in Moscow costs $2,500 to $3,500. Traditionally visitors are in most cases not allowed in, or are not allowed to go further than the entrance hall of a state birthing home. Many of Russian maternity hospitals now have family wards where fathers can live together with their wives and babies. Natural birth is welcomed. Provided a woman has maternal indications for a c-section, the surgery is made. Epidural is made on request and for additional fee. Modern delivery centers have yoga balls, whale music and doulas. A woman can deliver a child in a sitting up position. As soon as a baby comes to the world, doctors lay him down on the mother's breast for the first skin-to-skin contact. Babies are staying in wards with moms unless there are health issues that require a baby to stay in neonatal unit. The postnatal wards are for several women to one room, however private contracts usually include single ward with extra facilities like fridge, a personal bathroom, TV and micro wave. Russian clinics are focused on breastfeeding and women are usually taught how to breastfeed and provide care to the newly born baby.
Homebirth is not supported as a choice for women by the state health system in Russia. As a result homebirth practitioners work outside the formal system and their practice is unregulated. Homebirth is a rare phenomenon in Russia as well. Around only 1% of children are born outside medical centers. Whereas up to 30% of children are born at home in Holland, 4% in Australia and 1-2 % in the USA. Legal certified midwifes are available in these countries.
A relatively new phenomenon in Russia is appearance of an active minority of women that advocate home birth for the number of reasons: hospitals impose too many unnecessary medical checks and manipulations for both a woman and the newborn baby, there are bad conditions and severe regulations in maternity homes, etc. They are ideological home births that totally or partially avoid medical care. The infant mortality rate at homebirth is high in Russia.
The total figures for infant mortality rate in the country are as follows: 7.5 deaths/1000 live births (2010). Despite a recent decline in the infant mortality rate in Russia, the it is still more than twice that in the U.S.
Russia's low birth rates and high death rates cause serious worries for the future of the world's largest nation. Russian government policy initiatives in 2006 were aimed at increasing the average birth rate by providing incentives and subsidies. These included increasing cash certificates for obtaining maternity (family) capital, extended maternity leave benefits, and enhanced day care services.
Federal Law on Additional Measures of State Support for Families with Children which came into force on January 1, 2007 grants families the federal subsidy – Maternity (family) capital. Under this law any woman who gives birth to or adopts a second, third, fourth, etc. child after January 1, 2007, was entitled to 250,000 rubles ($9,356). The sum has increased to 365,698 rubles ($11,58) by 2011.
The procedure is as follows: maternity capital is transferred to the Russian Federation Pension Fund budget. A woman applies to a local office of the pension fund, which will grant the woman a certificate after it considers her application. The family is able to use the maternity capital for only three years after a child’s birth. When necessary, the maternity capital, or its part, may be withdrawn for the purpose of real estate acquisition or construction, payment of mortgage or the children’s education. According to Russian Pension Fund 3 million Russian families have received the maternity capital certificate so far (August 2011.) As of today, with the help of the maternity capital 537,000 Russian families partially or fully paid off the housing loans worth 170 billion rubles.
The government raised the size of maternity capital to 475,000 rubles in 2016. The most popular way to spend the maternity capital in Russia is still paying off housing loans.
As a result the increase in the birth rate from 1.34 to 1.42 for a woman was registered. The ambition is to raise life expectancy and increase the birth rate by 30 percent. Therefore considerable sums of money are planned to spend on demographics-related projects in the next years. Recent government trends to support motherhood and childhood include the country’s financial contribution to the implementation of the Muskoka Initiative that aims ate reduction of maternal, infant and child mortality. Besides, there are extra corporal fertilization programs funded from federal budget.
Abortion is an acute problem in Russia. High abortion rate is named as one of the reasons of population decline. Unfortunately Russia has the highest number of abortions per woman of child-bearing age in the world according to UN data. More than a million pregnancies are terminated in Russia annually according to Russian Health Ministry. An abortion remains most common method of birth control for many women. The number of Russian women who use the pills as their primary form of birth control remains low - between 3 and 13 percent, as compared to 52 percent in Europe. The predominant form of preventive birth control is the highly uncertain rhythm method.
The measures are being taken though. More family planning services appear at the moment and the youth is being educated on modern contraception methods. With the population level in decline the Russian government is also keen to tackle the issue of abortion. Part of this is a long-term project to encourage women to have families with more than one child. A newly adopted law (October 2011) limits abortions to 12 weeks of pregnancy, except for women who say they can't afford a child, who may have an abortion up to 22 weeks. The law also stipulates a mandatory waiting period of two to seven days before the procedure to allow a woman to reconsider her decision.
Sometimes if a woman is unable to have biological children but still desires to raise children she makes a choice to adopt. Children who are eligible for adoption come from many different settings. Some are in foster care, a temporary home setting. Other children live in orphanages or with birth relatives until they can be adopted. Unfortunately Russian has 4-5 times more orphaned children than the USA and European countries. The statistics show that the rate of abandoned children in Russia is even higher then in post-war period. Russian orphaned children are a subject of international adoption as well. The major part of adoptive parents – 60% - come from the USA. Since 2005 however the number of domestic adoptions has been prevailing over the international adoptions. Russians mainly adopt infants or at least toddlers. According to Russian legislation only under aged child can be adopted. The decision is made in agreement with the biological parents if they exist and the child if he is already 10 y.o. The age, social, marital and financial status of adoptive parents is taken into consideration by the court when the case is decided. The stepparent adoption is quite frequent in Russia. More rarely relatives adopt a child left without parents. The least rare case is when Russian parents adopt or foster a child if they already have birth children.
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