I gave birth to two of my three children in France (the third in Switzerland), and had an all-around extremely positive experience. The importance the culture and medical system puts on the mother’s health and well-being in all phases of pregnancy and childbirth made me feel safe and taken care of.
France’s infrastructure — including a socialized medical system, low-cost child care, and numerous resources for pregnant women — allows women the time to prepare and recuperate from childbirth and, just as important, to care for the newborn baby.
I’ve never given birth in America, so I can’t speak to how the two compare, for better or for worse. But from living in France for 15 years and my own personal experience having children here, here is what I’ve noticed about how women in France approach childbirth and breast-feeding:
1. Medicalized births are still standard.
France is often regarded as a country that relies wholly on medicalized, medicated births. Epidurals are the norm (“Why go through the pain if you don’t have to?" is the thinking), and inducing babies is also common, likely because it’s easier on the doctor's and patient’s schedule.
However, natural childbirth is no longer entirely rare. French hospitals and clinics are very slowly changing, sometimes allowing natural births to take place in hospitals, and letting parents present a birthing plan — something that was unheard of up to a few years ago.
Personally, I never considered natural childbirth, and since I fell into what the “norm” was in France, it all went as I had wished. I did ask not to be induced if possible, and my wishes were respected.
2. Women tend to stay longer in the hospital after birth.
Twelve years ago, when I gave birth to my oldest, mothers were allowed to stay at the hospital or clinic for up to six days following normal childbirth. So I had my own set of child-care “experts” surrounding me for almost a week before I had to go at it alone! By the time I got home, I felt I had things a bit more under control, and my body was definitely feeling much better.
Today, women in France usually stay three full days (not including the day of the birth). For a cesarean section, it’s at least four.
During this time, aside from being seen by nurses and doctors, first-time mothers are taught how to bathe, dress, and clean a newborn. Women who plan on breast-feeding are given access to a lactation specialist. New mothers are urged to rest, sleep as often as possible, and eat well in order to promote a healthy recuperation.