Having a baby in France
If you're having a baby in France, here's a guide to French prenatal care, delivery, aftercare, and maternity leave in France.
If you're planning to have a baby in France, both state and private health coverage is highly regarded for giving birth. However, it's important to make sure you are registered with your choice well in advance of having a baby in France. Expat health insurer Bupa Global explains how to have a baby and access maternity and childcare in France.
French maternity and childbirth care
Most births in France are in a maternity hospital with the assistance of a midwife. The majority of maternity hospitals are public and the French public health care system is highly regarded. It is possible to go to a private hospital, which will ensure your stay is more comfortable. Check your insurance first as not all insurance covers private hospital care and it can exceed EUR 5,000 per day in France.
Home births are not common in France and they are not usually covered fully by insurance as they are seen as a riskier option. However if you go ahead with a home birth a midwife will be present.
Prenatal care in France
When you go to a doctor or midwife to confirm a pregnancy they will discuss your family history and take a blood test to identify any risk of diseases to the baby. The doctor will then refer you to a gynaecologist (or you can choose your own) who will be your principal contact during the pregnancy. The gynaecologist can help you to choose a maternity hospital and to find a midwife.
Some gynaecologists will speak English, although this is not guaranteed. It is worth getting recommendations for a gynaecologist from friends. Alternatively, the staff at the hospital you choose may be able to give you contact details for their accredited gynaecologists. In France the delivery is not always taken care of by the gynaecologist, particularly in public hospitals. It is usually managed by the team on duty at the time.
Following your first antenatal examination, which must be before the end of the third month, you will be given a three-page declaration of pregnancy document (declaration de grossesse). You will need this to claim health insurance and social security coverage. Social security payments are dependent on having been registered with social security beforehand (10 months prior to the birth date) and having worked for a certain amount of time.
Be aware that it is common practice for parents to be told of the sex of the child during the pregnancy by the gynaecologist so, if you do not want to be told, make sure they are aware.
During your pregnancy
The following steps should be taken during your pregnancy:
- Register the pregnancy
- Send the declaration of pregnancy to the Health Insurance Fund (Casse d’Assurance Maladie CAM) and Family Allowance Fund (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales CAF)
- Perform mandatory medical examinations
- Register with a nursery
Following the first antenatal examination you can attend a further eight sessions with the gynaecologist (including ultrasound scans and delivery preparations). Your gynaecologist will provide you with a maternity record book (Carnet de Santé Maternité) for details of your medical examinations. It is possible to obtain reimbursement for some expenses. In addition the Health Insurance Fund will also send you a pregnancy guide booklet and dates for medical exams and maternity leave.
The Family Allowance Fund will make a one-off payment to you during the pregnancy (Congé Maternité), which is effectively a birth grant. Two further payments are then made after birth.
In some circumstances expectant mothers may also be provided with home help during the pregnancy, usually in cases of medical, social or financial difficulties. Applications for assistance can be made to City Hall, Social Action Community Centre (CCSA) or Services of Child Social Assistance (ASE).
Home births, meanwhile, are uncommon in France but can be arranged upon request. Home births aren't fully covered by state insurance, so it is important to speak with your private insurance provider before making a final decision.
Following the birth the baby receives a comprehensive review including being weighed, measured and checked for possible defects. The healthiness of the baby is assessed against the Apgar scale, which checks heart rate, breathing, muscle tone and responsiveness to stimulation. The measurements and Apgar score are then noted on the first page of the health record.
The score will range from 0 to 10, with 10 meaning the baby is in the best possible health. As a rule of thumb, a score of 7 or more is considered to reflect a healthy baby. A lower score need not be a cause for concern, however, as some babies simply take longer to adjust to life outside of the womb. The doctor and midwife will make a full scale assessment and inform you of any concerns they may have.
Before being discharged the baby will also have a compulsory check from a pediatrician. The results of this are duly recorded on the baby’s health record.
The Health Insurance Fund will cover all expenses including delivery, epidurals and screening for diseases of newborns right up until the 12th day of your hospital stay. However, hospital stays generally average around three days. If you leave the hospital within five days of giving birth and recuperate at home, you will also be entitled to receive home visits from the midwife.
Aftercare in France
It is compulsory by law to register all children born in France within three working days of the birth at the local town hall (Déclaration de Naissance). Most likely it will be the father who goes there but it can also be the doctor or the midwife.
Whoever goes to register the birth will need the certificate issued by the doctor or midwife and if the family is using the declaration of the choice of name they should bring this as well as the act of recognition (if it was made before the birth). The registrar (officier d’état civil) will then complete a birth certificate for the child. The registration is free.
The child will be automatically given French nationality if at least one parent is French. The law also states that a child born in France to non-French parents may receive French nationality at the age of 18, provided they are a resident in the country.
If you are a British citizen you may alternatively register the birth at the British Embassy, which would mean the birth was recorded in the General Registry Office in the UK.
At the time the child is registered a health record book will be issued. This will contain all of the medial information used to monitor its health, including vaccinations, right up until the child reaches the age of 16. It is a very important document and helps the communication process between health professionals and the family.
Compulsory medical examinations of children are carried out at regular intervals. The first is within 8 days of the birth, with another following during the 9th or 10th month and then another during the 24th or 25th month.
Mothers and children can also avail of mother and infant care (Protection Maternelle et Infantile, PMI) at local maternal and child health clinics (MCH). Staff there will provide postnatal checks, nutritional and health advice and can even administer vaccinations. This may prove to be a valuable support option, so it can be a good idea to ask your doctor or midwife about the benefits of mother and infant care. They will also be able to provide you with more detailed information on how to sign up for the service.
French maternity and paternity leave
Generally women are allowed a minimum of 16 weeks’ maternity leave in France, which increases to 26 weeks if a woman is having her third child. If you are having twins the period is 34 weeks and triplets would increase this to 46 weeks. In France there is flexibility of when to start taking maternity leave and mothers can choose to spread leave so that more is used for after the child is born. Additional leave may also be granted in the event of any medical issues relating to the pregnancy. Under no circumstances can your contract be terminated during the maternity leave period.
Paternity leave is usually around 11 consecutive days.
It is recommended to pre-register with nurseries once the mother is in the second or third trimester. This involves contacting several nurseries and forwarding the registration form (obtainable from the local council or nursery). However registration can cover several nurseries. Nurseries will look for the birth certificate after the child is born and may also request additional documentation.
Expatica / Updated by Bupa Global
Need advice? Post your question on Expatica's free Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.
Bupa Global offers international health insurance to expats in more than 190 countries worldwide.
Updated 2013; 2015. / Photo credit: Meagan (pregnancy).
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.