+ and – of my French Maternity Ward Experience

Obviously my maternity ward experience was already 8 months ago (omg what?) but I was thinking about it recently, and with the passing of time, my feelings about it have gained a little in perspective.

Here are the things I really appreciated about it, which are of course more or less specific to France and further to my clinic, where I will return if we have another baby (the other option would have been the public teaching hospital):

  1. The three-day stay: Standard stays in France are 72 hours from the time the baby is born. As far as I can tell, this is to make sure the baby is doing okay, to allow the mother to rest, and to help with breastfeeding. At least in my case it seemed that way. I was unhappy (=I cried) when they kept us a fourth night for no good reason (at least, no reason they could not have given us as soon as Littlest was born at a small 2.67 kg, which he regained by his fourth day). However, the morning we left, one of the puéricultrices asked me, concernedly, if breastfeeding was going okay. The tone in her voice suggested that if I’d said I was worried, I could have stayed yet another night for help. (But I wanted to gth outta there. See below.)
  2. The staff really seemed ready to show me everything. The first day I didn’t have to change a single diaper, which was nice because I couldn’t stand up and walk very easily (see, #1, reasons for the 3-day stay). By the second day, standing up straight was easier and a puéricultrice happily showed me how to change a diaper, how to clean his umbilical cord (cleaned regularly with éosine in France), how to clean his face, and eventually, how to bathe him.
  3. The night staff were wonderful, honestly—they were so reassuring and understanding of the fact that I needed support and help, especially with breastfeeding.
  4. Breastfeeding mothers were well taken care of in terms of food. It wasn’t the best food but I ate anything that was put in front of me (still do, pretty much) so I didn’t care. I gobbled up all those 2500 calories. Liter-sized bottles of vitamin-fortified water were also supplied on demand.

Things I was less crazy about:

  1. Littlest was only left on my chest a few minutes in the delivery room. I was a really easy-going mother and let things just sort of happen, but next time (if there is one) I think I will ask and perhaps insist on more time to help baby try to breastfeed.
  2. The staff in general asked that we leave Littlest under his heated blanket as much as possible during our stay, which meant not only fewer cuddles but less skin-to-skin, which I didn’t even try because none of the staff mentioned it. Obviously, if there’s a next time, I will do as much as I can get away with.
  3. We were left pretty well alone during the daytime once the first day was past. That first day the staff came in a lot to check on Littlest’s blood sugar and temperature and to change his diapers. But the maternity ward seemed to empty out in the afternoons and Sunday afternoon was ridiculous.
  4. I missed my husband, whose three days off for the birth were rapidly being used up in spite of Littlest being born on a Friday, and didn’t enjoy spending the nights alone without his help (though the night staff were, as I said, lovely). Meals for non-patients were expensive too, so he kept having to leave to get lunch or dinner for himself.
  5. The nursing staff gave us bottles of formula to give to Littlest his first day since he wasn’t latching. When I told this to my neighborhood midwife who used to work there, she was not pleased. Again, I was just going with the flow (and I know some moms feel they’ve been saved by supplementing at the beginning), but if there’s a next time, I’ll ask to get around that problem some other, formula-less way.
  6. That dang epidural that served no purpose and gave me back pain for months. Of course there was no way to know in advance I would have a rapid labor, but if there’s a next time, I hope to avoid it.

In general I was very happy with all my care, as always in France, but on the baby front there are some tweaks I would make if I hadn’t been a first-time mom going with the flow.


12 thoughts on “+ and – of my French Maternity Ward Experience

  1. This was really nice to read. I’m going to be in a public hospital – it’s actually the closest place to me, and I’ve heard good things, so there was really know question. So I know there will be differences. But if you don’t mind, I may send you a message soon about some more “delicate” questions about post-birth.

    • Reb says:

      Shannon, I gave birth to a first baby 10 days ago at a private clinic with a Hôpital Ami des Bébés label in the Bordeaux Metropole. If you have questions and want another point of view, feel free to contact me as well by email: rebeccation (at gmail).

    • Hey Shannon, feel free to write to me about whatever. I chose the private clinic because my OB practiced there (recommended by a doctor friend), not for any preference. I’ll return to the clinic because I’ve since heard some horror stories about the CHU. I mean, I’m sure they’re flukes (I sure HOPE they’re flukes), but they make me want to avoid it.

      • Thanks! The partners of two guys my husband works with just gave birth at my hospital, and they had good experiences, so I’m not too worried. And it’s a level 3, which helps my paranoid side. I basically had to register the moment I found out I was pregnant. Gotta love big cities. I didn’t even know about private clinics (was only told about the private hospital) at that point. Still, this hospital is the closest – only a 10 minute drive away! Even if there’s traffic (which is like anytime that’s not the middle of the night in Lyon), it still won’t be bad.

  2. Reb says:

    Interesting! Thanks for this.

    I just gave birth at a sort of maison de naissance (so no epidural) within a Hôpital Ami des Bébés and agree that after delivery, globally, my needs were very well taken care of, but there were still minor tweaks with regards to the baby’s care that I would like to see improved. The HAB label, though, meant that (1) peau à peau was encouraged, including 3 hours immediately after delivery, though that felt like 10 minutes; (2) exclusive breastfeeding was almost militantly encouraged, though I would have appreciated more information, and while I had no major issues myself, I got the impression that formula would never have been offered to a new mother who wanted to breastfeed; and (3) provisions were made for the presence of the new father, including a bed for the night, which made a huge difference for me and for him. We had the same issues with food as you did, though. And like you, we were also mostly left alone during the day, but the staff that came when we called was as excellent as the night staff.

    • Congrats on your new little one! I hope everything went as well as possible. And impressive that you did it without the epidural! I wish I had but again hindsight is 20/20. Glad that daddy was able to hang around and help too. I hope your baby is doing well and that breastfeeding is going okay.

      • Reb says:

        Thanks! Breastfeeding is emotionally exhausting, but the little one makes up for most things. She’s doing great, even if I’m a little frazzled 😉

  3. Wow, sounds like things in French hospitals have not changed much in 20+ years! My birthing experience was in a public hospital (but as a private patient) in Lyon back in the 90s. Fortunately I was committed to breastfeeding, and confident as it was my second; otherwise would probably not have made it as they were pushing formula even more back then. Worst memory: starving. Food was completely inadequate, and everyone seemed more concerned about getting back to pre-pregnancy weight than keeping strength up for feeds. Best memory: excellent medical care. I had a big baby and a long labour so the epidural was appreciated. Congrats on your new arrival by the way!

    • Wow! They definitely loaded me up on food—I think I even had two desserts at lunchtime. An afternoon snack was lacking but they probably had calculated that it was unnecessary given the thousand calories they gave me at lunchtime. I agree that the medical care has been excellent for us.

  4. I couldn’t fault the maternity care I received in Paris – even the food was really good. My only regret is that that hospital is too far away from where we live now, so if there is ever a baby number 2, I’ll have to find somewhere that lives up to my high expectations!

    Individual good and bad experiences aside, one thing that I think does make a big difference is having a private room, particularly if the father can also spend the night there. People I know who had to share found it hard to rest and were desperate to leave after the 3 days were up, whereas I was quite sad to leave our little cocoon.

    • Ahh it’s hard to let go of health care providers that we have a good relationship with. I hope to return to my same midwife if we have another baby though I did all the appointments with the OB this time. I might consider switching because it is reimbursed better.

      I can’t even imagine having a double room! We paid the extra to have a single room. I came down with a migraine one afternoon we were there and needed darkness. That plus all the breastfeeding and night confusion… I was so much better off without bothering or being bothered by another mother/baby pair.

      Our clinic is supposed to be renovated (was supposed to be before my stay) so maybe the rooms will have more space for Dad soon, and a baby bathtub. It was a bit of a mess when we were there because they were making do with half done renovations.

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