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Thursday
May292008

Attachment parenting has not caught on in France

There are many reasons to love France. Great wines and cheeses. Beautiful villages. Plentiful arts and culture. There are also many reasons to hate it. Public toilets that are rarely clean, rarely have toilet paper and rarely have toilet seats. People that let their dogs poo wherever they like and don't pick up after them. Rude people working in the service industry.

Now that I am a parent, I'm noticing other differences between my home and native land (Canada that is) and France. It seems that attachment parenting has not caught on. In fact, it seems that the science of parenting has not caught on at all.

Let's start with breastfeeding. I'm nursing my 14 month old and in Canada I see other moms nursing all the time when I'm out with my kids. They nurse at the mall, at the playground, in restaurants, basically wherever they are. In France, I have never seen a woman breastfeed her child in public in 3 trips here of several weeks each time over the past 3 years. In fact the only time I saw a woman breastfeed her child was when I peeked through the door of the bathroom stall that contained the diaper change table at a highway reststop to try to figure out what on earth was taking this woman so long to change a dirty diaper and was able to see that she was sitting there nursing her baby. That said, I don't think that everyone is just hiding at home breastfeeding their babies because I see bottles everywhere. I've been quite shocked at the number of newborn babies I've seen with bottles in their mouths.

If breastmilk is not the food of choice for babies in France, then chocolate must be. I'm the first to admit that my 3 year old son eats too much chocolate. He didn't have any at all until he was 2 years old (and neither will our daughter) and when he isn't in the presence of either grandmother then I might have a fighting chance at reducing his addiction somewhat. But a walk down the baby food aisle in a French supermarket reveals tons of "petits pots" (jarred baby food) that contain chocolate as well as formula with chocolate mixed in. The morning snack of choice for French toddlers and preschoolers is a piece of baguette with a piece of chocolate in it.

Babywearing is also virtually unknown here. While in Spain a few weeks ago, I at least saw tons of Baby Bjorn style carries or hiking backpacks. But in France I've only seen a very rare glimpse of a hiking backpack and then only on hiking trails. The only wrap I've seen was on a mannequin in a nature store. I haven't seen a single ring sling, pouch, Mei Tai or soft structured carrier anywhere other than on myself or the German friends we are travelling with. Not only does noone use them, but the looks that I get amaze me. In most parts of the world, I get huge smiles from people. But from the French, I get looks of pity (they must assume I can't afford a stroller and therefore decided to piece together a table cloth to carry my baby around) or looks of disgust (like I'm torturing the poor child). I wonder if the people trying to push their strollers through the crowded markets and narrow streets notice the looks of pity that I'm giving them as I glide effortlessly through the crowds with my baby happily snuggled up to me, even perhaps nursing discreetly as we move around.

Other parts of Europe (Germany, Scandanavia) seem to be more up to speed on attachment parenting and I wonder what is keeping the French in the dark. I won't ask.....they might make fun of my accent again.
« The down side of co-sleeping | Main | I'm a horrible houseguest »

Reader Comments (26)

Not that I know much about France and French culture, but somehow, I'm not surprised that it's not as overtly AP as the rest of Europe might be - I guess your experience fits in with my stereotype of the place.

And it's reassuring to know that a fluent French speaker like you has also been mocked for her accent - I'm nowhere near fluent, but have repeatedly been told that I speak French like a Mexican.... Go figure!

June 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

The final count from one month in France....

- 2 babies in wraps
- 1 woman breastfeeding in public
- too many Nestle salespeople flogging chocolate filled food for children in the cereal aisle

June 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

"The morning snack of choice for French toddlers and preschoolers is a piece of baguette with a piece of chocolate in it."

I'm just glad I'm not teaching there!!

June 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterplozano76

Annie, you've hit the nail on the head with this post. I *live* in France and here is my final count:

3 babywearing moms (myself included)
1 babywearing dad (my dh - French I might point out ;-))
1 mom bf in public (moi !!)
3 cloth diapering moms (some of the women at my bf group are into AP)

Chocolate in a baguette! Who *thought* up that idea? They ALL do it!!

In fact, I am the ONLY one of my friends who is bf'ing her under 6 month old baby. All the other babies have been bottle fed since day 1.

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Yes, I have heard that bf is not common in France, although mine were all in school by the time we lived there so I didn't especially notice one way or the other. However, since in general by 3 weeks their babies are at the creche all day, it makes sense that they wouldn't bf. And I, too, can't believe all the chocolate they feed their kids. My fav is muesli with chocolate in it--aren't we missing the point here? My poor children feel deprived. On the other hand, who's to argue with the joy of a really good fresh pain au chocolat? Mmmm.

Thanks for your comment at Rocks in my Dryer, which is how I found you.

October 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteredj

My family and I returned from living in France last summer. Our children are a bit older than yours (they were 9, 12, and 14 when we arrived). We are a very close family, probably because we move around a lot, so I observe the lifestyles in the countries we've lived in. We walked a lot, living in Paris, and would see very few children outside - playing, hanging out with friends, etc. I think a lot of French are a lot freer and less hands-on with their own children, which seems sad to us Westerners. But we met very few rude French (as a lot of people want to believe they all are). When they would find out we were American, they immediately lit up and wanted to talk with us about anything and on occasion also wanted to practice their English.

October 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSouthernRose

Mmmm...baguette with chocolate... I'm sorry, what were you saying?

June 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLauren @ Hobo Mama

[...] What country did I visit where attachment parenting hasn’t really caught on? It was France. [...]

Well that doesn't really surprise me, especially after reading the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter's thoughts on motherhood! http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/12/france-feminism-elisabeth-badinter

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

I too encountered some rude people in France and got mocked for my Québecois french accent (they responded to me in English when I spoke french! I swear my french isn't that bad LOL), but overall had such a great visit. Of course, I was a teenager so didn't pay any attention to kids/babies. Reading your post makes me want to fly over there and nurse my 2.5 yr old in front the Louvre *ha* (although maybe only tourists would be there?!)

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Please. Seriously, please. Since when you think you are able to give an opinion on any country for staying there only for a few weeks.
And where were you ? Paris ? Big cities or small towns ? That's like if I say canadians only eat moose and live in log cabins because I went on a fishing weekend in the forest.
And your way to judge meals of French toddler by your quick and naive approch of "I just look what is in the shelves in supermarket".... PLease, again. A vast majority of mother DO breastfeed their babies in France. Not for 2 years. And you saw bottles ? As a mother, you don't know that working mothers use pump to fill this bottles when they don't have time to breastfeed/have to go to work...???

Then, about parenting science, THANKS, I think we really have our own stuff. Attachment parenting has never ever been demonstrated to be beneficial by any scienfitic studies. But that's good to see how a more "tolerant" canadian is actually even more pretentious than a French by judging a whole culture as empty in the field of parenting. Thank you for your advise. If I may say, I'm pretty sure that if I go to your country I won't find a sign of OUR parenting culture, and I won't go and say you are stupid as you did, because I understand your culture is very different from mine.
And attachment parenting is actually pretty much AGAINST the mediterranean culture that I have, which is a very loving and boundaries creating culture, (see the italian mother) but at one moment let the child be an independant and social individual.
But thanks again for your 1,5 cents of nothing, based on so few misunderstood and incomplete informations...

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHAHAHAsofunny

wow- #10 a bit overly hostile? Wow, I mean get a clue. The writer is entitled to share her personal experience and opinion in her own article. You sound really angry about it. Maybe you didn't receive attachment parenting ;)

I was just going to add however, that in the 2 years since the article was written some things in France (well Paris most certainly) have evolved. I live in Paris and EVERYWHERE you go, there are babies in wraps! It is wonderful. On the breastfeeding front, alas, that hasn't really changed. Unless they are foreign, you are not going to see French women breastfeeding in public. Most French women I spoke to about it have pretty much said the same thing, they are too shy!

This cracks me up coming from a culture where breasts are plastered everywhere! I really do NOT believe it is a question of being shy, but that is the agreed upon cultural explanation for it. Although I do have French friends who breastfed in private until their babies were 3 months old - when they had to go back to work (after their PAID maternity leave!!!!!)

I am delighted to report though that I have never, ever gotten a strange look or even a smirk while breastfeeding my daughter in public. No one has ever stared or made much of a notice - and I have breastfed my daughter all over the place, including the Lourve, Notre Dame etc.

November 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternicole in paris

I found this site after googling "French women do not breastfeed much", which in my experience is true. I live in Paris and have a 5 month old that I feel pressured to wean (from French family members, friends etc). In the States most of my friends breastfed their babies a long time (like 22 months) ...that is unheard of here! I would say about 1/2 of my female French friends didn't breastfeed and the ones that did only did for less than 6 months. I have no idea why that is.
Baby wearing is catching on I think (I can't imagine taking the metro with a stroller) and my daughter will be eating real food before she gets anything that comes out of a jar. That's what a Babycook is for!

April 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpats

Hi, just wanted to share my own experiences as an American living in France. It seems breast-feeding is fairly encouraged here at the beginning, but that encouragement drops off radically at about 6 months and is down to zero by 12. My in-laws are mostly shocked to see that I haven't weaned my daughter, and all I can tell them in reply is that I see no sense in stopping what I can do naturally only to go buy a replacement at the store.

Baby-wearing, on the other hand, seems to have caught on. I would say about 25% of the moms (and dads!) that I see are doing in, though I still get a lot of questions about my 12-month-old being "too heavy".

Probably the most difficult thing for me is the cry-it-out issue. While I am not an AP militant, don't go to groups, don't even own most of the recommended literature, etc., my own conscience has never felt comfortable with leaving my little one to wail and scream just because I want her in bed by 7:30 sharp. My in-laws are convinced that this is totally wrong, that crying is healthy, that she will be spoiled, etc... As a new mom trying to figure out what to do, this is terribly difficult for me. The lack of support wears on me and of course, I can't help but run things over in my mind and second-guess myself.

Anyway, no, I would not say that France as a whole is into the AP philosophy.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

As an American and having worked as a business culture consultant and trainer in Germany and now France, it was my job to understand both foreign cultures in comparison to my own.

Now that I'm going to be a mom in a month (!), I've been noticing that here in France, the stroller dominates and there's very little breastfeeding and baby carrying - especially compared to Germany. But, think of it culturally - the French are raised to be very independent and competitive from an early age and they have a high number of women working. Germany tends to have mothers staying at home - which, unfortunately, has hurt women in many ways as they feel they must choose between work and children and they have the lowest EU birthrate as a result. And the culture and government there is unsupportive of working mothers. France though, is VERY supportive of working mothers and as a result they have the highest birthrate in Europe.

It's very challenging to be a French working mother practicing attachment parenting - especially if they must return to work and the workplace isn't supportive of it. It's slowly catching on though. I live near the Germany/Switzerland border so I figure that my public breastfeeding will be viewed as "crazy American" stuff or I'll be mistaken for a German tourist :-) Either way, the point is that if France sees more of this, it will start to normalize in the culture - so BF on gals!

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

I guess the question is whether France is supportive of NURSING working mothers, i.e. do they have provisions to support moms who pump at work? Or onsite daycare so they can nurse at work?

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I haven't heard of much support in the workplace and I doubt companies would offer much since France already has generous benefits for mothers. Mothers are expected to hire a nanny or leave their infant at a daycare (creche) if they go back to work. The system is apparently working though to get moms back to work because France offers very low cost daycare or some funds to help pay for a nanny. And I hear that creches are usually pretty high quality compared to the states.

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

[...] When Julian was 21 months old, we were visiting in in-laws in France.  On this trip, and others before it, I realized that attachment parenting in general and breastfeeding in particular were not as popular in France as in .... [...]

Argh! I had the same thing happen to me! I kept talking to everyone in french and they kept replying in English thinking I must be more comfortable in English.. but my mother-tongue is French! It was so frustrating, I came away from the experience really hating France :(

(A pity cause my Fiancé loves Paris and is always trying to get me to go)

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Corriveau

Hi there ! I am French and I live near Paris, don't have any kids yet but I am very interested in everything related to babies and children, AP and so on, so maybe I can give you some insights:
Regarding breastfeeding, 75% of women breastfeed right after giving birth, 28% of women after baby's 6 months and only 6% after 1 year. Breastfeeding in public is not really common here, though it seems to be catching up (but lots of people think it's still indecent behaviour to breastfeed a baby in public, whatever his/her age, on public transport for instance, saying/thinking stuff like "we don't want to see your boobs, and you could give your baby a bottle"...)

I agree with what I read in previous comments: support for breastfeeding drops after 6 months, if you even manage to reach that milestone ! Doctors have an extremely poor knowledge of breastfeeding (just 1 day in the 9-to-11 years of training for pediatricians is dedicated to breastfeeding...). Formula companies are really powerful, they aren't allowed to advertise formula before 6 months but they are really catching up afterwards (this ad for a formula really infuriates me, does a "great" job at giving you the idea that formula is "probably the next best thing after your breastmilk, as soon as 6 months", even the position of the baby points to an unnoticeable transition... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRMQCAQyaBk)
Plus paid maternity leave lasts 2 months so most babies are either in daycare or with a nanny from this age, and very few of the daycare providers accept breastmilk, most moms wean their babies before that...

No specific support for nursing working mothers, except for one hour during the workday that you can use either to pump or breastfeed your child, but the latter is almost unheard of. And it's an unpaid hour. And companies over 100 employees need to be able to provide a space for pumping too, but they usually never have a dedicated space for that (see this testimonial (in French) from a French mom who used to work in the US and who tells the differences she experienced when she arrived to France: http://blog.allaitement.mamanana.com/2008/10/faire-les-trois.html)
Onsite daycare is pretty rare, it's mostly for organizations with specific working hours like hospitals, airports, or big companies that share a daycare between their employees.

Babywearing is becoming more and more widespread though, I see lots of mothers wearing their newborns either in a wrap or a soft structured baby carrier like Ergo. Babybjorn-type carriers are still the most popular though. So no wonder babywearing stops relatively early, since carrying an older baby or child in this type of carrier gets pretty heavy !

I'd say overall AP still has a long way to go in France, but it's becoming increasingly popular and talked about, in parenting magazines and general audience newsreports.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

[...] (via @phdinparenting)'"}};} One of the first posts that I wrote on this blog was called Attachment parenting has not caught on in France. We were in France at the time, visiting my in-laws, one of many trips that we made there both [...]

Annie, this comes across to me as a simplistic, narrow-minded view of France and the French people. I lived in France for 5 years, and have been in the UK for the las 8 years. I can assure you that were I to replace France in your post with UK or US, everyone here would be nodding in agreement.
Go to any ASDA supermarket in England, and I challenge you to spot any breastfeeding going on.
I am sorry to say that declaring general truths based on anecdotes is Daily Mail reporting style, not usually the kind of reporting on this blog.
I can't believe I am angry that someone is wrong on the internet, again!

May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSouad

Souad:

I haven't spent enough time in the UK to compare it to anything, but I have spent enough time in France to compare it to Canada. Obviously my observations are generalizations based on what I observed and I don't claim that they apply to every single family, but there are certainly observable differences on the whole. In Canada, I see as many breasts as bottles and as many sling as strollers. I've never seen chocolate baby food and everyone was horrified when the formula companies started selling their chocolate toddler formula.

May 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

As a French mom living in England I'd like to side with Souad, as well as add that your first paragraph in this post and many comments you've received are just full of stereotypes about France and French people. Although I know little of the Americas (and none of Canada), I'm well travelled and have lived in three continents so I'm well used to hearing these stereotypes and I know they are nothing more than that.
Now with my experience of preganncy and 6 months with a baby in the UK, I can assure you that you could definitely do as Souad suggested and you'd be spot on in my opinion, only I wouldn't write it with such scorn. I have many friends and relatives in France with babies and toddlers and pretty much all I knew about babies before having mine is their advice. When I wanted to buy a sling (imagine that I knew all about them as I'd seen them on my friends in France), I ended up asking my mom to buy it and bring it over because the only place to buy slings in the UK is on the internet... and I'd never seen anyone with one to ask for advice on brands/types. Same thing for reusable nappies, and let me repeat that my French friends/cousins were using them too. And bottle feeding here is extremely common here, to the point that a doctor and nurses asked me which brand I was using before even asking me whether I bottle fed. And I'm bombarded with adds and offers from formula milk and baby food brands since birth: the day after a birth every mom gets a visit from a "Bounty lady" at the hospital -bounty being a company doing PR for baby stuff brands - where she gives you a pack full with samples and takes your details without you knowing from the hospital records. Yes, this is a private company having access to public hospitals... never heard of that in France but here it happens.
And about food given to toddlers, after 3 years I'm still surprised when I see toddlers with sodas, chips, crisps, giant cookies in their hands. Which makes me think that a piece of bread with a square of chocolate is a lot healthier. Which could also be part of the reason why child/teenage obesity is much lower in France than in the UK...
So this is how it goes here. And really, I find myself a lot more reasoned and tolerant that most of your readers, because all I do is use my judgement and raise my baby the way I want, breastfeeding (past 6 months, even as a French person), pumping milk for the time I'm working, with cloth nappies and a babysling, and it turns out perfect because no one minds.
This is just to show you and most of all your readers that before ranting and judging, it's better to sit back and work out what's a prejudice, what's an impression as a tourist (ie a glimpse of reality) and what's really the truth.

May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEln

Maybe this is why French kids are SO much better behaved than North American kids (just talking on average here of course, but the differences are striking).

November 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRay

If we talk facts, here they are;
France has always been the worst european country for breastfeeding since 1780! Even when the formula was not available, one bookkeeper (lenoir) found that of 21000 parisian mothers he had records of, only 3% breastfed their own babies (babies were breastfed by milk mummies mostly by rural woman). In fact sending babies to the countryside to be breastfed until they were 2-3 years old was common, unfortunately only about 2/3rds of the babies made it back.. the rest died away from their biological parents...

Europe has worlds lowest breastfeeding rates, and France is
The worst of the worse .. with less than 20% percent still bf after 6 months. Sadly 40% of babies never even taste human milk.

So no, its not prejudice, its a fact that attachment parenting has not caught up in France. On a personal mote, i am not an ap, yet i find most of the french attitudes to parenting quite distant and dethatched. I feel all they do is yell at their kids 24/7..

May 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNil

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