Starting a family is an exciting time in your life. As a newcomer in Canada, it can be daunting to embark on this major life change without your family and friends nearby. However, learning what to expect through your pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood in Canada can help prepare you for what’s ahead.
This article provides useful information on Canada’s healthcare options, maternity and parental leave, building a support network, and financial assistance programs to help you prepare for childbirth and life as a new parent. We also spoke to Stan Leveau-Vallier, who started a family with his wife, Clemence, after moving to Toronto from France. He shares his insights and offers guidance for newcomers starting their own families.
In this article:
- Will my child be a Canadian citizen?
- Provincial healthcare coverage for pregnancy and childbirth
- Choosing the type of birth you want
- Parental and maternity benefits in Canada
- Returning to work as a new parent in Canada
- Raising a child without the family and friends you left behind
- Finding your parental tribe in Canada
- Navigating daycare as a newcomer parent
- Canada child benefit
- Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)
According to the country’s birthright citizenship policy, every child born in Canada is automatically given Canadian citizenship, regardless of a parent’s citizenship or resident status. The one exception is children who are born in Canada of foreign diplomats, who are not given Canadian citizenship at birth.
Keep in mind that your child’s automatic citizenship will not change your residence status. If you’re a temporary or permanent resident (PR), you still need to follow the normal process to apply for Canadian citizenship.
Permanent residents and temporary foreign workers on valid work permits qualify for provincial health coverage. In some provinces, international students may also be eligible for publicly-funded healthcare. If you’re covered by provincial health insurance, most medical care related to your pregnancy and childbirth will be of no cost to you. The following medical costs are typically covered, but may differ among provinces:
- Visits to your healthcare practitioner, including a physician, midwife, or both.
- Tests and x-rays ordered by your healthcare practitioner.
- Ultrasounds ordered by your healthcare practitioner. At a minimum, women have two ultrasounds, normally between 11 and 14 weeks to determine the baby’s due date, and again between 18 and 20 weeks.
- Genetic screening test, if you meet certain criteria.
- A standard hospital room (typically four beds in a room) for the delivery of your baby. A semi-private or private room may be available for an additional charge.
- The cost of prescription drugs administered in a hospital setting.
Provincial healthcare coverage varies by province. Check with your doctor or healthcare practitioner to find out more about what pregnancy-related costs are covered in your province.
There are several options available to help you plan your childbirth. One of the first steps is to choose a healthcare provider to care for you through your pregnancy, labour, and after your birth. Your choices are:
- An obstetrician (sometimes called an OB-Gyn) who specializes in providing care during pregnancy and childbirth.
- A family doctor (not all family doctors deliver babies as part of their practice).
- A registered midwife who provides primary care for low risk pregnancies.
One aspect of childbirth that newcomers to Canada are often unfamiliar with is developing a birth plan. As a parent-to-be, a birth plan describes your preferences for childbirth to be used as a guide by the care team that delivers your baby. This can include:
- How you wish to manage pain during labour, such as with an epidural.
- Your personal support during childbirth, such as a spouse, friend, or doula.
- Where you want your baby delivered. Most births in Canada are performed in a hospital, but if you have a midwife deliver your baby, you may have the additional options of your home or a birthing centre.
Ongoing financial security is a prime concern for many newcomers as they embark on their journey into parenthood. After the birth of your child, one or both parents may need to take time off for a few weeks or months. Unlike many countries, where the mother is considered the primary caregiver and parental benefits for new fathers are limited, Canada offers financial and employment benefits to both parents.
The Canadian government’s Employment Insurance (EI) maternity and parental benefits provide financial assistance to eligible parents who take time off work to care for their newborn. The maternity benefit is available to biological mothers only (not mothers who adopt), while the parental benefit is available to both parents. You may be eligible for benefits if:
- You’re in insurable employment and have paid EI premiums.
- You have accumulated at least 600 hours of insurable employment during the qualifying period. The qualifying period is the 52 weeks before the start of your parental or maternity benefit unless you received an EI benefit within this 52-week period, in which case the qualifying period will be from the start of that benefit.
- Your normal weekly earnings are reduced by more than 40 per cent during your leave.
As of January 1, 2022, the maximum insurable earnings used to calculate maternity and parental benefits is $60,300 CAD per year. Insurable earnings are the portion of your income used by your employer to calculate your employment insurance premiums.
In Quebec, maternity and parental leave is provided by the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan. The plan offers two options: the basic plan and the special plan, which differ in length of leave and percentage of income replaced. The Quebec Plan provides maternity, paternity, and paternal benefits, as well as a benefit for single parents. Quebec residents must apply for benefits through this plan only.
Maternity leave benefits in Canada are provided to biological mothers who cannot work because they are pregnant or have recently given birth, and who meet the eligibility criteria above.
You are entitled to a maximum of 15 weeks of maternity benefits that can begin as early as 12 weeks before the expected due date and end up to 17 weeks after the actual date of birth.You cannot receive maternity benefits more than 17 weeks after the week you were expected to give birth or the week you actually gave birth – whichever is later.
During your leave, maternity benefits provide up to 55 per cent of your average weekly insurable earnings to a maximum of $638 CAD per week as of January 1, 2022.
Parental leave benefits in Canada are available to both parents, including parents who adopt a child. It’s up to both parents to determine how to share the benefit, which is in addition to the maternity benefit. Note that the benefit does not change in the case of multiple births (for example, twins) or if more than one child is adopted.
You must choose standard parental benefits or extended parental benefits. This choice applies to both parents.
Standard parental benefits
The standard parental benefit is provided within a 52-week period after the week the child is born (or adopted) for up to a maximum of 35 weeks. The weekly standard benefit payment is 55 per cent of your average weekly insurable earnings to a maximum of $638 CAD per week, as of January 1, 2022.
Extended parental benefits
The extended parental benefit is provided within a 78-week period after the child is born (or adopted) for up to a maximum of 61 weeks. The weekly extended benefit payment is 33 per cent of your average weekly insurable earnings to a maximum of $383 CAD per week, as of January 1, 2022.
There are a variety of ways you can use your parental benefits. For example:
- The mother returns to work after her maternity leave, and the other parent takes the full parental leave.
- Each parent takes half of the parental leave separately, at the same time, or with some overlap.
- If one parent returns to work after a few weeks of parental leave then, a week later, wants to go back on parental leave, that is allowed as long as the 35-week (standard) or 61-week (extended) leave has not expired.
After the birth of their first child, Stan and Clemence chose the standard parental leave benefit and split the 52 weeks, with Clemence taking the first half and Stan taking the second half. As the father, Stan valued his time at home to bond with his child and applauds Canada for encouraging fathers to take on less traditional roles. “We might not have had that opportunity somewhere else,” says Stan. “It fit with our life and was what we wanted.”
Do Canadian employers provide parental leave?
In Canada, your employer is legally required to give time off for maternity and parental leave. Your employer is not required to pay you during this time, however many employers top-up maternity and parental benefits.
When you return to work, your employer is required to provide you with the same, or a similar, job as the one you had before your leave, as well as any wage increases that came into effect while you were away. Your employer also must provide accommodation for:
- Providing a place to breastfeed or express and store milk.
- Providing longer breaks to breastfeed or express milk.
- Allowing for extension of maternity leave.
- Allowing for alternative work arrangements.
Caring for a newborn can be challenging, and even more so without the help of family and friends for guidance and hands-on support. “If we had been in France, we would have had more help and advice from family,” says Stan. “But because of the distance, we were also free to make all our own choices, especially because our family was not familiar with the Canadian system.”
Relying on people in the community, he admits, was especially important during the pregnancy and after the birth of their child. He fondly recalls their church choir hosting a baby shower for them––something that was new to them since it’s not a tradition in France.
Prenatal classes, which are offered by most hospitals for free or at a small fee, are a great resource to learn what to expect during labour and after your baby is born. These classes cover when to arrive at the hospital, labour, breastfeeding and more. An added benefit, says Stan, is you get to meet parents going through the same experience which can help with building your support network during and after the birth. Your community may offer additional prenatal classes as well.
Making friends with new parents in your neighbourhood and surrounding community is a great way for newcomer parents to find support in lieu of family and friends you’ve left behind.
“You can find yourself not getting any breaks when you don’t have family nearby,” says Stan, who came to understand the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ They relied on friends for babysitting exchanges to get the breaks they needed. “They would watch our child so we could go out one night, and we would do the same for them in return,” explains Stan.
Other ways to meet new parents include local parent groups or some of the many programs for new parents offered in most provinces, such as Early ONCentres in Ontario and the Family Resource Program in British Columbia.
There are several daycare options for young children in Canada, including nannies, daycare centres, and home daycares. The cost of child care varies by province and, in many areas, spaces are limited. It’s best to research your options early and place your name on a waitlist as soon as possible.
“Finding daycare was not easy,” says Stan of his experience in Toronto. “We put our child on a waitlist before he was born and then found out the spot was already taken when we showed up the first week. We went through five daycare options before eventually finding a great neighbourhood daycare that has cared for all three of our children.”
Childcare costs can be quite high, however you can claim childcare costs on your income tax return each year to recoup some of the expense. Most provinces also offer subsidies for child care to eligible parents.
The Government of Canada helps parents offset some of the costs of raising children with the Canada child benefit (CCB). This financial benefit is a tax-free monthly payment given to eligible families with children who are under the age of 18. As a permanent resident or citizen of Canada, you may be eligible for the CCB if you are the person primarily responsible for the care and upbringing of your child.
You can apply for the Canada child benefit when you register the birth of your newborn with your province or territory. If your child was born in a hospital, you will likely have the option to complete the birth registration by paper form or online before you leave the hospital.
Read our article on Moving to Canada with children to find out more about Canada child benefit and how much you can expect to receive.
The Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) was developed by the Government of Canada to encourage parents to begin saving early for their kids’ post-secondary education. When your child (the beneficiary) begins post-secondary education, funds can be withdrawn from the RESP in the form of educational assistance payments (EAPs) to pay for tuition or cost of living expenses for a qualifying educational program.
Once you open an RESP for your child (the beneficiary) and begin contributing to it, the Government provides an annual grant that equals 20 per cent of your annual contribution, up to a maximum of $500 CAD per year, and a lifetime maximum of $7,200 CAD per beneficiary. Once your child turns 18, the government grants end, so the sooner you begin saving, the greater the benefit to you and your child.
There are different types of RESP plans. Speak to a financial advisor to choose an RESP plan that best fits the financial needs of your family.
The decision to start a family is a life-changing one, filled with joy and adventure. Many newcomers may find it challenging to raise children in a relatively new environment, especially if you don’t have family or friends in Canada to support you. By familiarizing yourself with Government support and drawing on the experiences of other newcomer parents who’ve travelled this road before you, you’ll find it easier to navigate through your exciting journey into parenthood in Canada.