So you’ve just found out you are pregnant in France (felicitations!) and are now wondering what comes next? The system and paperwork can seem overwhelming to navigate at first, especially if you don’t speak French. But the good news is that France is one of the best countries in the world in which to have your pregnancy and maternity experience. Their health and social systems are excellent. Pregnant women and their babies are exceptionally well cared for. On your part you just need to confirm your pregnancy, declare it, choose a midwife, and register with a hospital.
Visiting a Gynecologist in France
The very first thing you will need to do after you have seen those double lines on a pregnancy test, is to confirm your pregnancy with a gynecologist. When choosing your gynecologist it is wise to ask around your friends for recommendations. You can also check out Doctolib for a list of gynecologists in your area. Through Doctolib you’re able to filter your search by language if you are more comfortable with one that speaks English.
At your first appointment your gynecologist will do an ultrasound (echographie) to check that the pregnancy is viable and to find out your due date. They will also give you a prescription (ordnance) for prenatal blood work.
You will then be given the paperwork that confirms your pregnancy (declaration de grossesse) so that you can move on to the next step and declare it to social security (securite social). This is so that you can start receiving the benefits you are entitled to. For this reason it’s important to have your initial appointment before the 12th week of pregnancy to ensure you get everything you are due.
Pregnancy in France: Choosing a Midwife and Hospital
During these first few weeks it is also smart to start scoping out your local hospitals and choosing a midwife (sage femme). Your midwife will follow you during your pregnancy, be present at the birth and tend to you and your baby afterwards. Again, asking friends for recommendations is the best way to a great midwife that suits your needs. Personal experiences speak volumes.
For your local hospitals and what they offer, you can also look these up on Ameli.fr. You should bear in mind distance, and what level of care you are likely to need.
Declaring your Pregnancy in France
Now comes the fun part! The “declaration de grossesse” that your gynecologist gives you comes in three parts, 1 pink sheet of paper and 2 blue sheets. You need to send the blue ones to your “Caisse d’Allocations Familiales” (C.A.F) and the pink one to your health insurance body “Caisse Primaire d’assurance Maladie” (C.P.A.M). Be sure to do this before the 14 week mark of your pregnancy to receive all of the benefits you are entitled to (see our article on CAF benefits for more on this).
When the family allowance and health insurance bodies have received your declaration, you will receive in the post a pregnancy record book (carnet de sante maternite) and a guide to what you can expect for the duration. You will also receive instructions to create an account on the national health insurance website (ameli.fr) which will keep a record of everything for you and is a valuable reference point.
What are you entitled to?
From the time your pregnancy is declared you are entitled to “tiers payant”, or third-party payment. Up to the 6th month of pregnancy your expenses will be 70% covered on your Carte Vitale as normal. The rest is supplemented by your French health insurance (mutuelle) if you have it.
After the 6th month everything is 100% covered by the state insurance. All ultrasounds, tests, screenings for the baby, appointments (whether pregnancy related or not) are totally free. This includes the delivery and up to 12 days hospitalization afterwards.
Through C.A.F you will also receive a 1 off payment around your 7 month of pregnancy, and a further 2 after the birth. This is to reward you for giving birth in France and to contribute towards maintenance of your little one in those first few months.
Pregnant women are also entitled to a free comprehensive dental health check, and are given a pass that allows you to skip to the front of queues and request seats on buses.
Note: If you don’t yet have a carte vitale or mutuelle insurance, you will have to pay for everything up front. You will receive a receipt of sorts called a “feuille de soins” each time, so that when you are on the system you can send them to your C.P.A.M for reimbursement.
Prenatal care in France
Your “carnet de sante de maternite” is your first port of call when you have any questions. It contains all of the information you will need on the health checks you will be having, and how often you will be having them.
In a single, uncomplicated pregnancy, the standard of care is 7 appointments. This includes 3 echographies, a thorough initial blood panel (this includes a blood type test if this is your first pregnancy) and monthly blood tests to check for toxoplasmosis. At each appointment your gynecologist will also take your weight, ask you about your general health and answer any questions or concerns you might have. Between 24 and 28 weeks you will also have the standard test for gestational diabetes.
In the first trimester you will be offered a test that screens your baby for chromosomal abnormalities and that can also tell you the gender. If you do not want to know the gender be sure to tell your gynecologist ahead of time so that you don’t accidentally see the results or get told. One of your ultrasounds will be what is known as the “anomaly scan” (analyse des anomalies) at around 20 weeks to thoroughly check your baby and confirm the gender if you wish.
Your midwife will also direct you to antenatal classes if you express an interest in attending.
What if you are carrying multiples?
If you are carrying twins or triplets you will be seen more frequently and the amount of scans you will have increases. You may also be referred on to specialists in other hospitals if needed. Your gynecologist will guide you.
Giving Birth in France
Your state health insurance covers delivery in a public hospital. Private clinics are available if you are looking for something a little more luxurious, but are not covered by all insurance bodies. It is imperative to check with yours first to avoid any unforeseen expenses. Don’t worry if you can’t afford a private clinic, the public hospitals in France offer some of the best care in the world. You will be comfortable and well looked after whatever path you choose.
Home births are rare in France and not at all subsidised by the government.
Registering the birth of your baby in France
After delivery you must register the birth of your child within 5 days. Failure to do so can result in fines and penalties. Your midwife will provide you with your baby’s birth certificate, paperwork for you to fill out and direct you to the town hall (mairie) local to where you gave birth. Dad can do this on his own, there is no need for both parents to be present.
Postnatal Care in France
For Your Baby:
Directly after birth and before you are discharged, your baby will be given a comprehensive health check by a paediatrician. They will check the baby’s weight, heart, lungs, muscle tone and responsiveness.
You will be given a health record book (carnet de sante) specifically for your baby. In this booklet you will find details of all of the surveillance check ups and vaccinations your infant will be having in the first 2 years of life;
- The first check is around 8 days after birth and will be done by your midwife.
- After that your baby will be checked by your midwife or paediatrician once a month
up to the age of 6 months.
- Your baby will then have checks at 9 months and 12 months.
- If all is well your baby will be checked just twice in their second year, and at around the 2 year mark for the last of their vaccinations until they are 6 years old
Your baby’s health care provider will provide you with a prescription for their vaccinations ahead of time. You have to collect the products from the pharmacy and bring them to the next appointment for administering. It is worth noting here that vaccinations are of course optional, but a mandatory requirement if you want your child to attend state nurseries (creches) and schools in France.
Before you are discharged from hospital following the birth of your baby, you will be checked fully by a doctor. The midwives will help you initiate breastfeeding and assist you in the general care of your little one as you heal.
Your first check after the birth will be approximately 8 days afterwards, along with your baby. After that you will have a postnatal appointment with your gynecologist at 6-8 weeks. They will do an internal exam, breast check, incision check if you had a caesarean section and a smear test if you are due one.
Any issues that arise in between these appointments can be dealt with by your general practitioner (medecin traitant). There is also a local mother and baby clinic available called the “Protection Maternelle et Infantile” (P.M.I), that can assist with breastfeeding and any concerns you have for yourself or your baby.
Maternity and Paternity Leave in France
Mothers must take a mandatory 8 weeks maternity leave in order to receive their benefits in full. You are entitled to take a full 16 weeks paid leave if you wish to do so. This time increases if you are having multiples or are on your third child. The time can be spread out before and after the birth as you prefer.
You will get equal to the average monthly wage you earned in the 3 months prior to taking your maternity leave.
Fathers are entitled to 11-18 days paid paternity leave.
More more information and guidance on your maternity and paternity rights take a look here.
By Gemma Corby
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