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BIRTH

Why do so many French women have epidurals?

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?

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

France investigates spike in babies born with arm defects

France's health minister on Sunday announced a new investigation into the births of several babies with upper limb defects in various parts of the country in recent years, saying it was "unacceptable" no cause had been found.

France investigates spike in babies born with arm defects
Photo: Depositphotos
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said she and her environment counterpart Francois de Rugy had decided to look more closely at what caused 14 babies to be born with stunted or missing arms since 2007, two weeks after health authorities said they had failed to find an explanation.
 
The cases have been concentrated in three French “departments” or administrative areas: Ain near the Swiss border, which had seven cases between 2009 and 2014; Brittany on the West coast which had four cases between 2011 and 2013; and Loire-Atlantique, south of Brittany, which had three cases in 2007-2008.
 
 
In an October 4 report France's public health agency said that while the number of cases in the Ain area was not above the national average, the numbers in Brittany and Loire-Atlantique were statistically “excessive”. But it said it found no “common exposure” to substances that could explain them.
 
Fewer than 150 babies are born each year in France with upper limb defects, which occur when part of, or the entire arm, fails to form completely during pregnancy. While the cause of the defects is unknown, research has shown that exposure of the mother to certain chemicals or medication during the pregnancy can increase the risk.
 
Buzyn told LCI channel that environmental experts would now join health experts in investigating the cases to try to shed light on the phenomenon.
 
“We cannot content ourselves with saying we didn't find the case, that's unacceptable,” she said.
 
In the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of babies around the world were born with missing or stunted limbs linked to the use of the drug thalidomide, which was used to treat nausea in pregnant women. It was banned in the 1960s.