Here we discuss the options on where to give birth, how to prepare for birth, and what the parental leave system and child benefits system in France is like.
Where to Give Birth?
In the majority of cases people in France give birth in hospitals, birthing centres/clinics or at home, depending on where they live.
Maternity hospitals are classified as Level 1, 2 or 3. Level 1 hospitals are suitable for most pregnancies, although they will need to transfer patients to a level 3 hospital if long-term care is required and there are no neonatal intensive care units. Level 2 hospitals have these in situ or immediate access to those nearby. They are therefore an option for the birth of premature babies. Level 3 hospitals have both neonatal resuscitations units and intensive care units. People with high-risk pregnancies are usually recommended to register with Level 3 hospitals.
Birthing centres or clinics are midwife-led and tend to provide a more relaxing and 'home-like' environment within which to give birth. They are often associated with level 3 hospitals, but are only suitable for low-risk births. In some centres birthing pools are available for water births.
It is worth checking if the hospital or centre/clinic you are considering is signed up to the fixed healthcare costs agreed by the French government (conventionné) or not (non-conventionné). If it is non-conventionné, fees tend to be charged at a higher rate and the state will only pay the equivalent of the standard fixed costs.
Home births are not common in France. An independent midwife must be employed to attend a home birth. She will have oxygen equipment but will call an ambulance for transfer to the nearest hospital in case of emergency. A directory of independent midwives is available at the website of the Association Nationale des Sages-Femmes Libérales at www.ansfl.org. It is worth noting that home births are not fully covered by state insurance, therefore its important to discuss this upfront with your insurance provider if this is your preferred option, to confirm what is covered.
Birth Preparation Classes
You and your partner will be offered a prenatal interview with a midwife covering topics relating to birth and what to expect in the early postnatal period. It is a good idea to prepare a list of questions in advance of this interview. You will also be offered up to seven further sessions run by midwives which are covered by social security and are therefore free, even if they are provided by independent midwives.
There is often a chance, as part of the classes, to visit the hospital where you are registered, and to view the rooms where you might give birth. This can be a reassuring to many couples.
Some university hospitals run English antenatal classes, but availability will depends on where you live. Ask your doctor for more information and check coverage with your insurer.
It is a requirement by law in France, that maternity leave (congé maternité) from work must be taken for at least 8 weeks. Your employer cannot terminate your contract during the period of maternity leave.
It is possible to take up to 16 weeks of paid leave (paid for by l'Assurance maladie, and usually divided into 6 weeks before your due date and 10 weeks postnatally), however if this is your 3rd child, this increases to 26 weeks. If you are pregnant with twins or triplets, you will receive 34 and 46 weeks of paid leave, respectively. Adoption leave is also available for 10 weeks. Additional leave may be granted in the case of pregnancy-related medical issues.
If you prefer to work closer to your due date and to spend more time with your baby after the birth, this may be possible by arrangement with your doctor or midwife.
In the case of premature births, maternity leave is still based on the official due date and not when the baby was born, however in the case of babies born after their due date, the end of the maternity leave is calculated based on the actual birth date.
If you are registered as a self-employed entrepreneur, you are also entitled to an allowance for the interruption of business activities and an allowance for resting. If you are unemployed it may be possible to claim maternity leave in France, but you will not be able to receive maternity leave without stopping your unemployment payments first.
Paternity leave (congé paternité) in France is usually around 11 consecutive days and increases up to 18 days for multiple births. This can be used anytime within the first four months after the birth.
In order to receive the parental leave benefits you don't need to do anything. Your health insurer will assess your eligibility and send a salary certificate to your employer.
Under Section L. 512-1 of the Social Security Code, "any French or foreign person residing in France with one or more dependent children also residing in France, is entitled to family benefits for those children".
The CAF (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales) awards monetary benefits to citizens and residents of France who are responsible for at least one child, whether that be their own, adopted or fostered. There are several types of allowances, some of which are means tested.
The early child benefit program (Paje - Prestations d'accueil de jeune enfant) includes a birth or adoption grant, a basic maintenance benefit, a supplement for free choice of working time, and a supplement for free choice of childcare.
The birth or adoption grant is a one-off payment to help cover the initial expenses of a baby's arrival. You will receive this during the 7th month of pregnancy, provided your financial means do not exceed the applicable ceiling. See monenfant.fr for further details.