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Pregnancy to maternity leave: What you need to know about having a baby in France

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Pregnancy to maternity leave: What you need to know about having a baby in France
France offers an excellent medical system. Photo: Deposit photos
15:49 CEST+02:00
Having a baby is a big moment in your life wherever you're living but if you're away from home, you have the extra pressure of finding out about the French health system, maternity leave and benefits. Here's a guide of what to expect.
Having a baby is one of the most important moments in your life - and it can also be quite daunting, especially if you're in a foreign country.
 
France is no exception but knowing how the system works and being aware of some of the cultural differences can go a long way in reassuring future parents. 
 
 
In France, most women give birth in hospital. Photo: <a h ref> Depositphotos
 
Let's start with some of the positives. France is Europe's most fertile country and statistically it is one of the safest places to give birth in in Europe.
 
Childcare for babies only a few months old and upwards is heavily subsidised, which takes a great load off working parents.  
 
As you set off on your pregnancy journey in France perhaps one of the first things that will strike you is that having baby in France is a standardised process, which may come as a shock to some future parents.
 
There is much less discussion (often none for that matter) over what kind of birth a mother might want (home births for example aren't common and generally not recommended).
 
There's less support too: although antenatal classes are available, the French don't go in for mums' support groups or networks in a big way, which may make pregnancy in France feel a little lonely.
 
With that in mind, the key to a successful pregnancy in France is to know what to expect, believes British mother of two Helena Amourdedieu, who lives in the Paris suburbs and gave birth to both her children in France.
 
"If you come to France looking for the UK system, you won't find it," said Amourdedieu, adding that she thought the French system was 'fantastic'.
 
"In the UK, it's more of a mother-centred experience, but I had great care here, it's just different and I had a very positive experience."
 
But Annabel Gray, an English mother of two who gave birth to both her children in Paris less taken by her experience.
 
"Medically, it's more reassuring in France," said Gray. "But in England it's much better on a human level, it's less of a production process.
 
"Here, you're quite rapidly bulldozed into the system and you don't feel you have much control. There's a balance to be struck."
 
These are the steps you need to take if you're having a baby in France.
 
Once you're pregnant
 
After your first antenatal examination, you will be given a declaration de grossesse. This is a form you will need to fill out in order to claim social security and health insurance coverage. Once the baby is born, it must be registered within three days of giving birth at the local town hall. 
 
Eight things you should know about being pregnant in France
Pregnancy support groups can be hard to find in France. Photo: AFP
 
The forms are to be filled out and sent as follows: The pink sheet to your nearest Family Allowance Fund [Caisse d'Allocations Familiales (CAF)] and both blue sheets to the Health insurance fund [Casse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie (CPAM)].
 
During your pregnancy, you are required to have at least seven appointments with a doctor or midwife. This is a good time to discuss all your needs and make sure to talk to your doctor if you have any queries.
 
You may also want to attend antenatal classes in your hospital. In France, pregnant women are entitled to seven sessions for free. You may not make lifelong friends there, but the classes provide a good opportunity to meet other women and talk about your pregnancy in an informal setting. 
 
Giving birth 
 
Most people in France give birth in a hospital and it's important to book a spot in a maternity hospital as soon as possible which is something your gynecologist can help you with.
 
Your gynecologist can also help to find you a midwife who will help in the preparation for the birth, as well as birthing exercises.
 
If, like most, you are planning on your health insurance covering the hospital expenses, make sure you choose a public hospital as they may not be covered if you give birth in a private hospital. 
 
But if you're wondering whether to go public or private, you may want to ask around before as the considerations may not be the same as they are in your home country.
 
In France private healthcare isn't necessarily better, as Helena Amourdedieu found out.
 
"When I came to France, as a Brit I automatically though that if I wanted good health care I'd have to go private,"said Amourdedieu.
 
"So for the birth of my first child, I went private. It was a big mistake as private hospitals are much more medicalised here. With my second, I went to the state hospital and it was great."
 
When it's time to give birth you may chose to have your own room which an increasing number of French hospitals offer.
 
You'll have to pay for it though - (between €50 and €100 a night in a state hospital). It may be worth it as in France, mothers stay on average between three and five days in hospital after giving birth and six days after a Caesarean birth.
 
 
Coming home
 
While mothers may have more time to get used to their newborn in hospital in France, they are pretty much left to their own devices once they get home. New mothers are entitled to two visits from the midwife in the first week home and two others during the first two months.
 
It can feel a little lonely and daunting once you get home and a good place to go if you want advice or is the drop-in centre (called the PMI) where you can bring your child up to six years old for medical advice and other queries.
 
At this stage, you probably already have a GP but you may also consider finding a good pediatrician near you. They may be harder to find in rural areas, but cities are usually well provided for. A consultation is more expensive (although this depends on your health insurance) than with a GP but it can be worth getting a specialist to follow and get to know your child over the next few years.
 
 
Finding childcare in France: Where is the best place to live?
Most women return to work quite quickly in France. Photo: AFP
 
Maternity (and paternity) leave 
 
At this stage, you may be thinking about when or if you'll be going back to work, and perhaps this is when one of the real differences between parenting in France and the UK for example becomes apparent.
 
France encourages women to go back to work and there are a host of childcare options to choose from when our baby is only a few months old. 
 
It's also part of the culture.
 
"In France, there's a lot of pressure to be the perfect woman, and in England there's a lot of pressure to be the perfect mother," said Annabel Gray, who didn't go back to work right away but said she felt there was pressure to do so. 
 
But before you decide what you're going to do, in terms of maternity leave, this is what mothers in France are entitled to:
 
Maternity leave in France can vary according to how many children you already have and how many you are about to give birth to. 
 
For example if you are having your first or second child, you will get 16 weeks of maternity leave but if you already have two children and are expecting your third, you will get 26 weeks of maternity leave. 
 
 
Table: Service-Public.fr (government website)
 
 
Although this can change if you are expecting twins or triplets when maternity leave increases to 34 week and 46 weeks, respectively. 
 
The maternity leave usually starts around six weeks before the mother gives birth and ends ten weeks afterwards, although again this depends on your personal situation. 
 
During this time you will receive social security compensation. 
 
Fathers are also entitled to paternity leave in France which works out as 11 consecutive days off work. 
 
Birth and early childcare allowances 
 
In 2004 the French government came up with the PAJE (Prestations d'accueil de jeune enfant) which is essentially a set of benefits that simplifies the lives of new parents in France by helping with the cost of a new child in the family. 
 
The prime à la naissance is a means-tested allowance paid at birth, which is €941.67. It is meant to be used to cover the expenses related to the birth (or adoption) of a child. 
 
In order to receive it, you cannot earn more than the amounts seen in the table below. 
 
For example, if you are living in a couple and have just one child, you will only receive the prime à la naissance if you earn less than €41,425. 
 
 
Table: Service-Public.fr (government website)
 
 
Don't forget that if you have a mutuelle (health insurance plan) it often pays out a lump sum when your child is born. You'll need to contact them to find out the details.
 
To receive maternity pay you need to have been registered with social security in France for 10 months prior to the expected birth date.
 
On top of that you need to be able to show that you have worked 200 hours in the 90 days leading up to antenatal leave.
 
The daily rate is calculated on the average salary received three months prior to antenatal leave.
 
The maternity leave is paid every 14 days by the CAF  and the maximum you can receive is €76.54 per day. 
 
 
 
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