Being pregnant is a special time in a woman’s life, full of excitement, joy and hope. But it can also be a period of anxiety about what the future will hold, and experiencing this while away from your home country can add to the uncertainty.
British writer Jackie McGeown, who has had two babies in France and who runs the blog site Best France Forever, shares how pregnancy can differ in France to back home.
1. Pregnancies last one week longer in France
An extra week of being pregnant! This is fabulous news for anyone who enjoys carrying a basketball in their stomach while being bloated and suffering from back pain. No one? Oh.
Let’s be clear: the pregnancy itself isn’t actually longer, just the amount of time considered to be full term. In France they count 40 weeks and 6 days from the date of your last period to get your due date, whereas in the UK it’s 39 weeks and 6 days
If we go to the Baby Centre website for their due date calculator, enter the period date as 31st January 2017, we are told to expect the baby on the 7th of November. Same exercise on the French site but the bébé will arrive on the 14th of November.
What does this mean for you if you’re pregnant? Well, you get used to telling people about your two due dates and can even have a bet on which country will get it right. For both my babies France was easily the winner. Bravo les médecines françaises.
2. There’s regular screening for toxoplasmosis
Early on in your pregnancy you’ll give blood samples to check for infections like HIV and hepatitis, but also for a something called toxoplasmosis (toxoplasmose). This is a very common infection caused by a parasite carried in cats and rodents. Normally it causes no symptoms; in fact most people are unaware that they have it.
The problem arises when a woman is infected during her pregnancy. If this occurs, there’s a small risk she could pass the infection onto her baby, leading to serious developmental problems.
France is one of the few countries where pregnant woman are regularly screened for toxoplasmosis infection. If you aren’t immune you will have to do monthly blood and urine tests to check you haven’t become infected. This involves going along to your local laboratoire every month to pee in a tiny, tiny sample jar, then be poked with needles.
3. French people usually find out the gender of the baby before the birth
There may be some French people who don’t find out if they’re going to have a little Fabien or Fabienne but I haven’t met them. The opposite is true in the UK. Try as I might, I can’t think of anyone who didn’t want to leave the surprise until the birth. Don’t panic if you’re in France and don’t want to know – you do have the option of saying “NO SPOILERS” to your doctor*.
*Although I did have one doctor (not my usual) doing a scan and saying “She’s growing well… OOPS! You did know already it’s a girl, right? LOL.”
Photo: Wolfgang Moroder/WikiCommons
4. French people can be very upfront and personal with their questions
Colleague: "Did you plan to get pregnant?"
Me: "I’m so glad you asked! Funny story: we got drunk one night and one thing led to another…"
OK, I didn’t actually answer like that but I have been asked this question several times and at least once at work. Take a deep breath, be polite and rant about it later to your partner/social media.
5. There isn’t a culture of drinking alcohol when pregnant
There’s this perception that French women (maybe Latin Europeans in general) drink alcohol while pregnant. This certainly hasn’t been my experience. If anything the medical establishment in France is far stricter on the subject, advising complete abstinence during pregnancy whereas in Britain, having one or two drinks on a special occasion is considered acceptable.
So drink or don’t (inform yourself of the risks and make your own decision) but don’t expect to see bars full of pregnant women quaffing vin rouge.
Photo: Andrew Vargas/FlickrPhoto: Andrew Vargas/Flickr
6. There are childbirth classes in France
I attended about 3-4 childbirth classes given by a midwife at the hospital where I was booked in to give birth. Subjects covered included the stages of labour, pain relief, breathing exercises, birth complications, caring for a baby, caring for yourself (this is a big deal in France) and – yes! – breastfeeding.
Topics not included: ‘natural’ birth, by which I mean, for example, a birth without pain relief which takes place at home. Because this basically doesn’t exist in France except by accident.
7. The standard time to stop work is six weeks before the birth
You get 16 weeks maternity leave in France; that’s six before your due date and ten after. You can shift this to have three weeks before and 13 after, should you wish, but no more. Many women in Britain prefer to work as close to baby’s arrival as possible to have longer together afterwards, so this may come as a shock.
8. Tests for Group B strep are standard
Group B streptococcus is a bacteria that around a fifth of British women carry in their vagina. Most of the time it’s completely harmless and carriers usually don’t even know they have it. Problems may arise during childbirth, however, when Group B strep can be passed onto the newborn baby. Though rare, it causes infections in about 340 babies a year, leading to the death of around ten otherwise healthy babies in Britain every year.
In France there’s a national screening programme to test for Group B strep (streptocoques B in French). During the eighth month of pregnancy a vaginal swab is taken to check for the presence of this bacteria. Women who have a positive result may be given antibiotics during the birth if they are judged to be at high risk of passing it onto the baby.
If you’re interested in the subject, read about one British woman’s fight for Group B Step tests to be introduced in the UK after her son died from this preventable illness at just nine days old.
Message Paris – English-language support group for parents and parents-to-be. Packed with information about pregnancy.
Expatica – Information about medical examinations, your rights, legal aspects, etc.
French Entée – Fulsome sensible advice.