If you are wondering how French women prepare for birth, you’re in the right place.
Pregnancy here isn’t empirical; it’s mystical. The pregnant woman isn’t a patient or a number; she’s a vessel of new life.
Preparing for my birth in France was the most zen, un-frenzied 4 months of my life. My daughter’s actual birth didn’t correspond, but that’s a story for another day.
Wherever you are in the world, my intent with this article is to get you thinking about making the most of your 9 months. First, I want to explain a little about the healthcare system in France. Then, I’ll introduce you to the most popular prenatal classes in France.
So grab your coffee, mama, and let’s explore what it’s like to prepare for birth in France.
Healthcare professionals that prepare you for birth in France
There is no question—healthcare in France is some of the best in the world. We have access to highly skilled professionals at little to no cost.
I had heard a lot about midwives in France. There was also my family doctor, whom I had been seeing for years. I also knew that at some point, I’d need to bite the bullet and go see a gynecologist (it’s not the profession itself that scared me, but rather my lack of vocabulary in this context!).
When I asked my French friend and mama of 2 which doctors I needed to visit when I got pregnant, she said, “You get to see ALL of them!”
In France, you do need a monthly checkup with one of these healthcare professionals during your pregnancy. It’s up to you which one will do your monthly checkups, but you will likely see all 3 at some point for different needs.
Family doctor or GP
If you feel comfortable with your family doctor or GP (médecin traitant), he or she can do the monthly checkups throughout your pregnancy.
The word sounds antiquated (in French, it’s sage-femme, someone who is wise about women, wink wink).
These days, a midwife can actually be a man or woman, though you’ll find more women than men.
Your midwife is more specialized than your family doctor in pregnancy, labor, and delivery. She can prepare you for birth with a variety of prenatal classes. Mine even gave me a tour of the maternity ward!
For a fee, some midwives will block their schedule and personally assist at your delivery. Your midwife will make a house call soon after you come home from the hospital with your newborn, and she can assist you with breastfeeding and perineal reeducation (if you’re wondering what this is, ask me in the comments to do a blog post on it, and I’ll let you in on the secret!).
A gynecologist will be needed for complicated pregnancies, but also for everyone who needs an ultrasound. In France, you’ll have at least 3 ultrasounds to take various measurements of your baby.
I chose my gynecologist to do my monthly checkups because he did an ultrasound every single time. Gynecologists in France are not obligated to do this. It’s just now mine rolled. Otherwise I might have chosen my midwife for these appointments.
Prepare for birth in France with your maternity leave
As an employee, you are allowed 16 weeks of paid maternity leave in France.
You read that right. 16 WEEKS. PAID.
You’ll start maternity leave 6 weeks before your due date, which leaves you with 10 weeks after your due date.
As a “bonus,” if you give birth after your due date, you can extend your maternity leave to exactly 10 weeks after the actual date of birth—which is what I did. Since C was born 4 days late, I got an extra 4 days added to the end of my maternity leave. Score.
Finally, prenatal classes will prepare you for birth in France
In France, mama and papa can take 8 prenatal classes with a doctor or midwife, in a group or privately, at little to no cost (with the exception of Aquagym). Group classes are often held at the hospital, while private lessons can be done with your doctor or midwife at their regular office.
The first class, in your 5th or 6th month of pregnancy, will always be an interview with a midwife to talk about the psychological and socio-economic implications of welcoming a baby. For the next 7 classes, there are different types offered in France. Outside of the general classes, each is more or less woo-woo.
You’re going to need to know some basics about labor and delivery. Your midwife will explain everything you never wanted to know about anatomy. You’ll practice breathing techniques and massage to relieve pain.
Get all your questions answered, no matter how “silly” they seem or how embarrassed you are to ask them. How does a baby change positions on its way out? What the hell is a cervix, anyway?
This isn’t a group lesson yet—it’s still one-on-one with your doctor, so take advantage.
For mamas who want to stay active during their pregnancy, aquagym (water aerobics) is a great option. Swimming feels especially nice during pregnancy because getting into a pool virtually eliminates the feeling of being as big as a house. Aquagym classes will still help you practice your breathing and relaxation techniques. Tone your muscles and increase your flexibility safely and effectively underwater.
It’s yoga, but for pregnant ladies! Your midwife will lead you through poses specifically adapted to pregnancy. You will improve blood flow and flexibility. Yoga fosters a greater understanding of the mind-body connection, which will be very useful to you in labor.
Bonapace is a Canadian method which is basically acupuncture without needles. You’re going to need papa for this. Your midwife will instruct papa on the pressure points: where they are, and how to activate them with touch. Come labor day, papa can then assist you with pain management by using his fingers to do mini-massages. Sound good, ladies?
The practice of sophrology is basically meditation for pregnant women. The relaxation exercises are done sitting or standing, eyes closed. Learn how to better manage stress and how to remain present and mindful during your labor and delivery.
Possibly the most woo-woo of the bunch, haptonomy is the class I chose to take with Papa. Both parents learn to communicate with their child in the womb through touch and sometimes voice.
It was really a beautiful practice, but you have to relax and concentrate. Our midwife guided us on how to touch my stomach and how to use my voice to communicate with my baby.
She also guided us in exercises sort of like massage in order to “show baby the way” by pushing in a rolling motion and inviting baby to basically float around in different corners of my womb. It’s not painful and it’s not hurtful.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to practice specific haptonomy methods during my labor because I was hooked up to an EFM machine the entire time, nor during my delivery because I wound up having a C-section. The main benefit of these classes was setting the stage for communication between both parents and our unborn child.
How will you choose to prepare for birth?
I realize that not everyone in the world has the same access to this awesome healthcare. When I was pregnant in France, it was wonderful to feel treated like a person, and to have had the opportunity to choose who was treating me and which prenatal classes I wanted to take with Papa.
Hopefully this article introduced you to some methods you never thought of and probably never heard of. I think it’s always interesting to know different methods for preparing for birth.