Mum and baby

A guide to pregnancy and giving birth in France

PUBLISHED: 24 August 2021 | LAST UPDATED: 10 May 2024

In this guide, we look at prenatal care and birth options in France, as well as some local traditions and ways of life when it comes to pregnancy. 

First things first, there are a few phrases you should know when having a baby in France:

  • Test de grossesse – this is a pregnancy test and they’re available in most French pharmacies. 
  • Declaration de grossesse – after your first antenatal exam, you’ll be given a document that’s needed to claim social security and health insurance. 
  • La maternité – these are maternity hospitals, clinics, or wards. 
  • La sage-femme – this is a midwife, trained to look after you during pregnancy, labour and provide postnatal care. 
  • Obstétricien – this is an obstetrician, a doctor who is specifically trained in pregnancy and childbirth. 
  • Déclaration de Naissance1 – this is registration of birth and is compulsory within three working days of the birth.

Now that you know some of the useful terms, let’s look at what your birthing options are to find one that’s right for you.

Public hospital vs private clinic

The public healthcare system in France is funded in three ways: by obligatory social security contributions (usually deducted from your salary), by the government, and by the patient who also pays a small contribution to their healthcare costs2. It’s compulsory for French residents to register for public health insurance, and expats have access to it through the Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) system, after living in the country for three consecutive months2

While there are some English-speaking doctors and midwives in France, this isn’t guaranteed. If you’re not fluent in French, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a translator.

Ultimately, where you have your baby depends largely on what kind of health insurance you have.  For some people, their decision is simply based on how satisfied they are with their initial visit to a public hospital or private clinic.

Public hospitals 
Once your pregnancy is confirmed by a doctor, you’ll need to register at the hospital where you’d like to have your baby. You can normally do this via the hospital’s website.  It’s good to book your place as soon as you can. This is because labour and delivery are almost completely free to all nationalities (if you’ve been in the country for three consecutive months), places are rare and private rooms are not always an option. It’s important to note that some hospitals require proof of pregnancy to secure your place.

Public hospitals might not be as comfortable as a private alternative, but they are often more equipped in case of a complications during pregnancy, the delivery or with your baby. 

Private clinics 
There are several things to consider when looking at private options: What are you willing to spend? What kind of doctor do you want? How important is convenience to you? What cover do you have on your health plan?

Many private doctors, hospitals and specialists receive funding through the public healthcare system. In fact, most people who use the public healthcare system can still access privately run clinics for an additional cost. While the public healthcare system will cover 80% of the costs whether you’re using a public hospital or private clinic, you could pay more for the 20% that isn’t covered in a private clinic2

A popular option among expats is to make use of the public healthcare system and take out additional private healthcare insurance to cover specialist treatment and therapies.

Prenatal care 
There are several compulsory prenatal tests in France. The first takes place within three months of becoming pregnant3. After this initial exam, monthly appointments continue from the fourth month.

There are between five and seven standard tests, plus the option of at least three CT scans4. In addition to this, there are usually three ultrasounds during your pregnancy where you can ask the doctor to let you know the gender of the baby – which is quite often standard practice in France. But if you want to keep the gender a secret, make sure you let the midwife and doctor know.

There are also monthly tests for toxoplasmosis which is a common infection caused by a parasite carried in cats and rodents. If a woman is infected during pregnancy, she could pass it on to her baby.

Interestingly, your due date is calculated differently in France. In France, they count 40 weeks and six days from the date of your last period to get your due date, whereas in other parts of the world it’s often 39 weeks and 6 days5.

Another major difference in prenatal care in France, compared to other Western countries, is how involved the doctor is. While you might expect any prenatal tests to be carried out by a nurse or technician, they are done by your doctor. 

Giving birth in France 

Most women will choose to give birth at a maternity hospital with a midwife in France – who can help you with birthing exercises and preparation for labour. Hospital costs can easily climb to €5,0006 or more, so you’ll need to check with your insurer to find out beforehand which costs are covered and which costs aren’t.

Following the birth, the doctors and midwife make a full-scale assessment, including weighing and measuring, to make sure everything is as it should be.

The public healthcare system covers all costs including compulsory prenatal tests, delivery, epidurals, and screening for diseases of new-borns from your sixth month of pregnancy up until the 12th day of your hospital stay4. If you’re discharged within five days, you can request visits from the midwife at home. 

Cultural quirks in France 

Having a baby is different in every country. Here are a few differences for you to know about in France:

If you think registering with a hospital as soon as you know you’re pregnant is keen, then you’ll be surprised to know that you’re encouraged to apply to a nursery school or creche before the baby is even conceived. You could wait months, or years to get a place for your child in a nursery.

Most French families don’t go overboard with gender reveals or “we’re expecting” announcements. It’s very low key, as having a baby is considered a part of life. 

Breastfeeding is not standard practice in France. When you’ve had your baby, you’re taken to the maternity ward and presented with a bottle of milk. If you want to breastfeed your baby, you can refuse it. It’s thought that work, maternity leave, convenience, and lack of medical direction are the main reasons for mothers not to breastfeed. 

Paid maternity leave generally starts six weeks before you’re due. That said, paternity leave is only 10 days in France, so you need to make the most of it.

If you’re an employee in France, you’re entitled to what’s known as a birth premium – a pay-out if you meet certain criteria, including:

  • If you’re an EU citizen living in France or if you’re a foreign citizen with a valid resident permit
  • The birth must be registered within 14 weeks
  • Your total declared household income mustn’t exceed a certain amount.

If you meet all three criteria, you’re entitled to €923.08 per child7.

Finding the support you need 

If you’re new to parenting and to the neighbourhood, it can be overwhelming if you don’t have your support network around. There are several mums’ groups that you can join where you’ll be able to connect with other new parents – as both locals and expats. You’ll be able to find out more about these groups and how to join them by asking your doctor or midwife, and by doing some online research. 

Our World of Wellbeing hub contains lots of useful tips and information about being a parent abroad. Whether you’re about to have your first baby, or you’re moving your whole family to a new country, there’s plenty of advice about how to help things go smoothly. 

And if you’re ever unsure of anything, no matter where you are, we’ll always do our best to put you at ease. As an AXA – Global Healthcare member, you have  a team of midwives on hand through our health information helpline who’ll be able to answer any questions you might have about your pregnancy, or connect you with soon to be parents in your area. Just call +44 (0)1892 556 753 between 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, until 4pm on Saturday and until 12pm on Sunday (UK time).

If you have any questions about making a claim with us or what your policy covers, you can call us anytime, day or night on +44 (0)1892 503 856. 

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.