Why do so many French women have epidurals?

The Local France
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Why do so many French women have epidurals?
So why exactly are epidurals so popular in France? Photo: AFP

Almost 80 percent of French women will have an epidural during childbirth, new statistics show, ranking them among the most dependent on the pain killers in the world. But why?


Fresh stats show that 77 percent of French women will have an epidural injection to help ease childbirth pain.
The research was carried out by the French national institute of health and medical research, Inserm, in an effort to find out why so many women were switching to the procedure when they had initially requested not to have it.
Inserm noted: "France is one of the countries - perhaps THE country - where epidurals are the most common."
Indeed, around the world the statistics are usually much lower with rates closer to 40 percent in the UK and between 50 and 70 percent in the US. 
So why are French women so keen on the procedure?
Béatrice Blondel, the researcher behind the study, said that there were a large number of reasons behind the fact and that she didn't know which was the most important. 
"For some aspects of childbirth, French hospital staff are very much more active than in other countries," she told The Local. 
"We pay a lot of attention to aspects of care, we can have anesthesiologists on site 24/7 in many maternity units around the country and have an active management of labour policy."
"And we prescribe ocytocine in 60 percent of women, meaning we have to administer an epidural on them as most women have very painful contractions as a result," she added. 
Ocytocine is a labour-inducing drug that is used in slow childbirths. 
Blondel added that "a shortage" of midwives in France meant that those on the job were typically too busy to share out there time to women choosing to undergo natural childbirth. 
Other experts suggest that the "boom" in the procedure's popularity was thanks to a female empowerment surge in the 70s and 80s.
"Women were saying: 'There's no reason that I should suffer as much as my mother and grandmother'," anesthetist Dan Benhamou told L'Express newspaper. 
And ever since 1994, epidural procedures in France have been 100 percent reimbursed with health insurance. 
Then again, similarly to what some experts in the UK have suggested, maybe the women going into childbirth just "want to avoid the pain".
As one French woman wrote on an online pregnancy forum: "In France they assume you're going to want an epidural because why on earth would you suffer for no reason?"
The Inserm study concentrated on French women who had unplanned epidurals, discovering that while 26 percent of women don't want or plan to have an epidural, 52 percent of these women end up having one anyway.
The data showed that the French women who typically requested to not have the injection were under the age of 25, had previously had children, were not highly educated, or were foreigners.



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