The Differences of Raising a Baby in France: The Baby-Devil is in the Details

I often get questions about what to expect if you have a baby in France. Sure, there are differences between between raising a baby in France versus the U.S., but more often than not, the differences are in the little details… or should that be: the baby-devil is in the details?

Case in point: anywhere you go in France, you’ll likely see teething babies munching on some slobbery stub of a baguette. There is perhaps nothing more French than the baguette and apparently the love affair begins at a very early age.

Other than giving your teething babe a crunchy piece of baguette to drool on, what are some of the other little things that are different?

  • Cereal Eating – In France, the cereal comes at the end of the day to help fill the baby up at night, thus helping baby sleep through the night. In the U.S., many of the baby blogs I’ve read enforce the American idea as breakfast being the “most important meal of the day” and have cereals with breakfast.
  • Bedtime – France is not really a “9-5” kind of culture. Though the work week is shorter, most people tend to have longer mornings. It’s not uncommon for the French to arrive to work at 10am or sometimes later, but they often stay until 6pm or so. This means that a French baby’s routine typically runs a bit later than U.S. hours with a common baby bedtime being 8pm and wake up being 7 or 8am.
  • The 3 in 1 Stroller – You see these EVERYWHERE! If you don’t know what a “3 in 1” stroller is, it’s basically exactly what it says it is. It’s a one-time purchase that includes an “infant carriage” for your newborn, a super-practical “car-seat” for when you travel, and a “toddler seat” for when your baby grows up a bit. These separate systems all attach to a foldable wheel system and they are a big hit around France.
  • Helicopter” Parenting – If you head out on a reasonably nice day to any park in Paris, you’re likely to see gaggles of giggling infants of all ages running around the playground, jumping off rocks, playing tag, and climbing jungle gyms. Ringing these playgrounds are relaxed parents, engaged in conversation with their neighbor or nose deep in a book, basically ignoring their kid until said kid comes running up to them with some request to be, usually, denied or granted with a cool nod of the head. The lack of “helicoptering” is noticeable and it starts at an early age, with babies often left to their own devices in their playpens, cribs or floor mats with a selection of toys. If the baby begins to cry, Mom might lift her head, gauge the seriousness of the cry, and if she deems it’s because the baby is bored or frustrated, she shrugs her shoulders as if to say, “C’est la vie. Get used to it,” before going back to sip her café.
  • Legumes – On the whole, after talking with our pediatrician and receiving a long list of vegetables, how to prepare them, how much variety to introduce, and how much little Zef should be eating… it was clear that this is something a French value. French babies don’t just eat carrots and potatoes, but they eat a wide range of things, from baked sweet potatoes to braised leeks. Our Zef is on his way to being a little baby food snob. As a side note, some of these baby foods are absolutely delicious and are being introduced into our own meals!
  • Breastfeeding – My wife and I were talking about this early on and are very pro-breastfeeding and it seems like breastfeeding is making a bit of a comeback in France, but for the most part it seems like most French babies are bottle-fed. Our sage-femmes all encouraged us to breastfeed in public and we did, though my wife received a few looks (disapproving? hard to tell).
  • Set Eating Times – The French have pretty strict eating times for their children, and that begins really, really early on when babies are pretty much straight out of the womb. It’s thought, or so I’ve come to understand, that this is a good way to get kids to learn patience and, perhaps more importantly, eat everything on their plate.

So… these are a few differences I’ve noted so far. As I was telling a friend of mine about what I was writing over the next week she insisted I check out the book Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. I’ve put this on my reading list as it looks super-interesting, especially for any of us wondering why the heck French kids are, on the whole, just really, really well behaved.

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