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CHILDREN

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

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.

Pregnancy to maternity leave: What you need to know about having a baby in France
France offers an excellent medical system. Photo: Deposit photos
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. 
 
 
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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FAMILY

How to register a death and arrange a funeral in France

There’s a third certainty in life in France, after death and taxes - and that’s bureaucracy. 

Graves at a cemetery in Paris
There are strict rules around burial or cremation n France. Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP

No one wants to think about death while they’re enjoying the good life in France, but it’s important to understand what needs to be done – and when – in the event of a loved one dying in France.

Let’s start with what you can do before you die.

Burial or cremation

It’s a good idea to make it known whether you want a burial or cremation in France, or if you want your body repatriated for a service back home, so that anyone dealing with the formalities is aware of your wishes.

If you do want to be buried in France, it’s a good idea to reserve a plot, as it will make things a lot easier at a difficult time. Just keep the document that confirms you have done so in a safe place.

Funeral insurance

Funerals can cost anywhere between €3,000 and €5,000, so it can be a good option for older people to take out a funeral plan – they’re routinely offered by banks, insurers or funeral firms. It means funeral funding and organisation is automatically in place, and any family members flying into France, whose French may not be very strong, don’t have that issue to face. 

After a person dies, numerous administrative tasks are necessary in a short period of time.

The first 24 hours

If you’re with a family member, friend or relative when they die, you have 24 hours to report the death. 

If they die at home, contact their GP, or call 112 or 15. A doctor will come round and certify death and issue a medical certificate (certificat de décès / declaration de décès). If the person dies in a hospital, retirement home or other facility, it is their responsibility to report the death.

If the doctor believes the death was suspicious or by suicide, an inquiry is held. This is also standard if the death occurred in a public place. The responsibility for issuing the certificat de décès and burial permission in such cases falls to the public prosecutor (Procureur de la République) in the local high court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).

Registering the death

A relative, representative or undertaker then has to register the death at the local mairie (town hall) within 24 hours, unless the death takes place on a public holiday or at a weekend, when the admin offices at town halls are closed. 

Those who report the death need to take proof of their own ID, as well as proof of the deceased person’s identity (a carte nationale d’identité, carte de séjour, passport, marriage certificate or birth certificate) and the recently issued medical death certificate.

This should be enough for officials to issue a death certificate (acte de décès) – which includes information on where and when the death took place, not the cause of death. 

You can ask for several copies – they’re free and it’s a good idea to do so. These documents are needed to close the deceased’s bank or utility accounts. But, if you later find out you don’t have enough, don’t worry. More copies can be obtained online, in person or by post.

Organ donation

It may seem a bit crass to slip this point in here, but in general every adult in France is presumed to be an organ donor, unless they specifically opt out. 

This has been the case since the Loi Caillavet was passed in 1976, making everyone an organ donor except for those who have explicitly refused, as well as minors and those under someone else’s guardianship.

The rule, however, is different for foreign nationals who die in France. In such cases, the law of their home country takes priority.

In practice, doctors will consult with family members before harvesting any organs. Refusal must be in writing, and must confirm that the deceased had expressed their opposition to organ donation. 

Arranging the funeral

Once the death is registered, the mairie issues a burial permit (permis d’inhumer).

The deceased’s family usually have six days to arrange the service for a burial or a cremation, with allowances if there’s an open investigation or if the death happened on a weekend or public holiday, or if the person died abroad and wishes to be repatriated to France – in which case the time limit is six days of the arrival of the body in France.

Burial can’t take place within the first 24 hours after death.

If the deceased had indicated what type of ceremony they wanted, their wishes must be respected. If they didn’t specify, the decision has to be made by their closest relatives.

The funeral directors will help with these formalities. The mairie will have a list of local firms, and the website www.pompesfunebresdefrance.com has details of funeral directors in towns and cities across the country.

Burial

Burial in a cemetery requires a surviving spouse, parent or child to ask permission from the mairie. This is a formality and will usually be granted – though there are exceptions.

The deceased can be buried in the commune where they lived, where they died or where they have a family tomb.

Families may request to have them buried in another city, town or village (for example, if that’s where other family members) but the mairie may decline the request.

If the deceased had not already reserved a burial plot (une concession) you need to buy one. This is done at the mairie or at the bureau des cimetières. Costs vary depending on timespan which ranges from five – 15 years, to perpetuity and can usually be paid in installments. Arrangements may be made if the family lacks the means to pay.

Enquiries about burial must be made as soon as possible to organise a time and date for a funeral. If a burial plot had been previously reserved, you should find a document called a titre de concession confirming this.

Normally cemeteries require flat paving to be placed over the grave before the family can install a headstone.

Cremation

As with burials, permission for a cremation has to be obtained from the town hall of the commune where the death took place, as cremations usually take place at the crematorium nearest the place of death.

A medical certificate showing there are no medical or legal reasons preventing cremation is required. Medical implants such as pacemakers must be removed by a doctor or embalmer.

Following any short service, ashes are handed to a family member privately shortly after the funeral, or may be stored temporarily while the family considers what they plan to do with them. 

But there are strict rules on where ashes may be scattered. You can’t just throw them anywhere –  for example, scattering them on private land is banned. Communes will usually have a remembrance garden used for this purpose, but – again – surviving family members may be required to ask permission from the mairie to use it. 

Who pays?

Funeral expenses in France are covered by the estate of the deceased, usually their bank account. If the money in their accounts isn’t enough to cover the overall fee, heirs or family members must pay the difference.

The person taking charge of the funeral may, upon presentation of the funeral invoice, obtain the debit from the bank account of the deceased, which is to say, the required amount for the payment of funeral expenses, with a limit of €5,000. Beyond this amount, a notary needs to get involved.

If the deceased had funeral insurance, contact the insurer as soon as possible after death.

Seven days and after

Within seven days of the person’s death, you should notify their employer if they were working, health and life insurance companies, bank (do mention if you shared a joint account), and their landlord, if they were renting.

Within 30 days, notify France’s primary health insurance fund CPAM and return the deceased’s carte vitale health card.

Within six months, make sure you have informed the tax office with reference to income tax declarations and other relevant fiscal information. The process can be done online in the first two months after the person’s death.

Inheritance

A notary must be contacted promptly, in order to open the inheritance file. There is a six-month time limit for the filing of the succession declaration and the payment of an inheritance tax, if the death took place in France, twelve months in other cases. This is usually sufficient for an estate to be settled.

Notaires de France has a comprehensive English-language inheritance guide on its website.

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