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A Little One on the Way: Pregnancy in France
At a Glance:
- The French state provides excellent care for expecting mothers, which continues after the birth for both mother and baby.
- Births in public hospitals are entirely free of charge for French residents, who are obliged by law to have health insurance.
- A newborn does not necessarily obtain French nationality, despite being born in France.
- Abortion in France is both legal and paid for by the state.
Since January 2016, expats can easily apply for state health insurance, as the government installed the universal healthcare system known as the Protection Maladie Universelle, or rather PUMA. In any case, French residents are required by law to have health insurance.
The First Hurdle: The Pregnancy
France has a brilliant reputation for expecting mothers, with endless check-ups and services available throughout and beyond the pregnancy. First things first: A pregnancy test is called a test de grossesse and is available in most pharmacies.
Once you’ve confirmed the good news, it is advisable to choose a gynecologist who is also an obstetrician, known as an accoucheur. This will allow you to stay with the same doctor throughout the entire pregnancy. It is common for the sex of the baby to be revealed during the first ultrasound scan, so if you want to leave this unknown, specifically inform your gynecologist before the scan.
Following the first ultrasound scan, it is crucial to complete the document you will be given — the declaration de grossesse (proof of pregnancy). This is needed to claim social security and health insurance coverage. Once the forms have been received, mothers will be issued with a pregnancy guide, as well as dates for medical examinations and maternity leave.
Following the first check-up, mothers are entitled to a further eight examinations preceding the birth, which will include additional ultrasound scans and antenatal classes. For this purpose, your gynecologist will also provide you with a maternity record book, called the carnet de santé maternité, where each medical examination will be recorded.
Mothers will receive three payments from the CAF — the Family Allowance Fund. These will be the congé maternité during the pregnancy, followed by the congé parental and congé pathologique after the birth.
The Big Day: Giving Birth in France
Many women in France choose to give birth in hospital: their gynecologist helps them to reserve a place at their clinic of choice and to find a midwife in cases where the mother does not have an obstetrician gynecologist. Public health insurance for hospital births — excluding deliveries in private hospitals — covers all expenses for the first twelve days spent in hospital, meaning the birth will likely be completely free. Furthermore, mothers discharged within five days — the average hospital stay is three days — are entitled to home visits from a midwife.
Alternatively, mothers who choose to give birth at home should be aware that it is tricky to get full insurance in this case, due to the risk that a home birth entails. Nevertheless, your health insurance will partially cover the costs of giving birth at home, and the birth will still take place with a midwife present.
Cause for Celebration: After the Birth
Following the birth, babies must be registered within three working days. This is known as the déclaration de naissance and can be done at the local town hall, known as the mairie. The child may acquire French nationality at birth, providing one of the parents is also French.
Otherwise, non-French children who are still residing in France at 18 years are eligible to obtain French citizenship. Additionally, children who have lived in France for over five years from the age of eleven are also eligible to become French nationals upon turning 18 years old.
Mothers in France are entitled to a postnatal examination within the first eight weeks following birth, and, if necessary, physiotherapy. The child will then continue to have examinations up until they turn six years old. Local clinics also provide public services such as vaccinations and health and nutritional advice.
In France, abortion is legal up until twelve weeks along in the pregnancy, or 14 weeks since the last menstruation cycle. However, abortions at later stages are nevertheless possible, if two physicians confirm that the birth puts the child or mother at severe risk of death or an incurable illness. Providing the mother is registered with French social security, the termination at public hospitals will be paid for by the state.
The morning-after pill, known as la contraception d’urgence, is also available and can be purchased at pharmacies without a prescription.
Mothers in France are legally required to take a minimum of eight weeks off work and are entitled to receive their full salary for the first 16 weeks of maternity leave. This increases to 26 weeks for mothers who are expecting a third child or more. Mothers expecting a multiple birth are entitled to twelve weeks’ leave in the case of twins, or 22 weeks if they are expecting triplets. Fathers are entitled to eleven days of fully paid paternity leave, or 18 days in the case of a multiple birth.
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