Women in France forced to wear face masks during childbirth

French women in uproar as they’re forced to wear masks during LABOUR leaving them vomiting and unable to breathe – as doctors threaten to leave them to give birth alone if they refuse

  • Expectant mothers have to wear masks during childbirth in French hospitals 
  • New measures have been met with criticism from medics and campaigners
  • In some cases, masks made them too weak or led to emergency C-sections
  • Women shared their childbirth experiences, with one describing it as ‘traumatic’ 

Women in France are being forced to wear masks during childbirth, with doctors given the power to refuse to treat anyone who chooses not to wear one.  

French mothers have expressed their outrage at the mask requirement, pointing out that someone exercising in a fitness centre in the country is exempt from wearing one, but pregnant women must wear one during childbirth – a practice which is not followed in the UK or the US.  

Critics, including medics and campaigners, argued that women are finding themselves in unnecessary distress, sometimes leading to them becoming too weak to push or having emergency C-sections. 

Mothers across France have been forced to give birth wearing face masks after new legislation has seen the majority of hospitals enforcing a strict mask wearing policy. Pictured, an anonymous woman lays on a hospital bed wearing a mask while giving birth

People have expressed their outrage at the restrictions which mean doctors have powers to refuse to treat women who do not wear a mask – a practice which has not been adopted in the UK or the US. Pictured, an anonymous woman waiting to give birth wearing a mask in a hospital in France

Instead, they suggest birthing teams should wear respirator masks and higher grade PPE instead.

Mothers who have recently given birth under the new conditions have spoken out about their experiences. 

Maud, 30, gave birth at Nanterre, a commune in the Hauts-de-Seine department, in the western suburbs of Paris, at the end of April. 

The management controller, who was unaware of the rules before the birth, was made to wear the same mask for 12 hours between 6pm and 6am and she described her experience at the hospital as ‘blackmail’. 

She said it was made clear to her that if she did not wear a mask she would have to give birth on her own because the doctors could choose not to treat her, and the hospital was understaffed and could not provide a replacement team. 

The mother, who declined to give her surname, said: ‘As soon as I pushed the first time I realised that it was going to be complicated and my instinct was to take off the mask to breathe.’

Instead of forcing women to give birth in the same mask they arrived in and making it difficult for them to breath, people are calling for staff to wear respirator masks and higher grade PPE. Pictured, an unnamed mother with her newborn child wearing a mask in a French hospital

French mothers have been speaking out against the new measures, with some claiming they felt like they were ‘suffocating’ while wearing the mask and trying to push. Pictured, an anonymous expectant mother wearing a face mask in a hospital in France

She said she was told: ‘You have to keep your mask on, it’s protocol.’

In the throes of childbirth, she agreed to put her mask back on and pushed again but quickly realised that it was going to be complicated because she was ‘breathing my own hot air’.  

She said that she tried again, but said: ‘I had the feeling that I was suffocating, I was very hot, I was sweating profusely under my mask, I wasn’t managing it.

‘I remember one point my partner took the mask off me because he could see that I was in distress, but he was told off for doing so.

‘In the end the doctor had to use forceps and my son was born with amniotic fluid in his lungs, a bump on his head from the forceps and he had to be transferred to the neonatal service in another hospital because the hospital I was in did not have adequate facilities.’

Maud said: ‘This was very traumatic for my partner and me. Before giving birth, we are taught to manage our breathing and so to be in this situation was very traumatic.’

Maud also said that the aftermath of the birth was difficult because her husband was not allowed to see her and her son was in another hospital. She said: ‘I was all alone in my room.’

While there has been a great deal of support shown to her plight and to that of other women, she said that some other women have also been critical, labelling her and other women who have been through similar ordeals as weak.

Many people have questioned why people are allowed to take off their masks at fitness centres but women going through childbirth and still expected to in France. Pictured, one French women waiting to give birth while wearing a face mask

She said: ‘Women need to be more understanding of one another. The suffering and the trauma is real. Today, I don’t know if I would be psychologically capable to have a second child given what I have been through.’

Fanny Ragot, 25, went to a private clinic for her birth and was told upon arrival that she would have to wear a mask for the whole stay – something which was ‘non-negotiable’.  

She gave birth on April 8 at the Clinique des Franciscaines, which is part of the Private Hospital De Versailles – Ramsay Sante, a private facility in Versailles, on the outskirts of the French capital Paris in the Yvelines department. 

The mother, who has been unemployed since the end of August but previously worked in logistics for Renault, spent five days in hospital and had to wear the same mask throughout the entire ordeal. 

She said: ‘It was very, very hard to breathe. I threw up a number of times.

‘I couldn’t catch my breath with the mask on and in the end it was decided that I had to have an emergency C-section.

‘It must have been 98.6F (37C) in there. But when I tried to take my mask off, I was told off. They said that I would be spreading coronavirus everywhere.’

Fanny said medical personnel had all been wearing face masks but that they were normal surgical masks and not respirator ones. 

Fanny Ragot, 25, gave birth in April and found that she could not catch her breath while she was giving birth and made to wear a mask – eventually she had to have an emergency C-section. Pictured, Fanny wearing an oxygen mask for the surgery with her husband who was made to wear a face mask during the operation and their new baby

Echoing the feelings of other mothers across the country, Fanny said she could not understand why people in fitness centres do not have to wear masks but mothers giving birth do.

She said staff would withhold food until she put a mask on in spite of her weakened state when she was recovering in her room after her C-section, adding that neither the midwives nor anyone else ‘wanted to help me’. 

‘There was blood everywhere,’ she added. ‘I had to figure it out myself, all alone in my room, and if someone came in when I didn’t have my mask on they would stop dead until I put it on.’

Neither Maud nor Fanny have filed a formal complaint because they both said it would be futile.        

Another woman, Caroline, had her baby during the August 9 heatwave and claims she was made to wear a mask in 104F (40C) without proper ventilation.

She said: ‘After two epidural failures, the pain was unbearable and I was suffocating when I took deep breaths. After 30 minutes I tore the mask off.’

Clementine gave birth at the Necker hospital in Paris at the beginning of September. She said: ‘The mask was soaked with sweat during the delivery, I had to change it twice.’

The new mother was made to wear a mask for her whole stay at the private hospital in Paris – something which she was told was ‘non-negotiable’. Pictured, Fanny lowers he mask for a picture with her new baby in a room alone

She also alleged that it was unnatural and that she had not even been able to kiss her baby because of the mask.

Necker Hospital declined to comment on her allegations.

Hospitals have however previously defended the practice as a precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19 as there is not enough time to wait for a coronavirus test result when a woman comes in in labour.

The National College of French Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, however, has said that the situation is ‘exceptional’ and that mask-wearing during labour is ‘desirable’ but cannot be enforced.

Mothers surveyed also criticised coronavirus policies around fathers who are often not allowed to see their newborn babies or partners, even in cases of complications, causing lasting psychological damage and distress for new families.

One woman commented: ‘Being in a single room, I do not understand why my husband could not be confined in my room, which would have allowed me to benefit from his support and for him to share the first four days of his son’s life. I really feel we were robbed of the start of our life together.’

Women’s group ‘Tou.te.s Contre les violences Obstetricales et Gynecologiques’ (‘All Against Obstetrical and Gynaecological Violence’) has collected testimony from over 2,000 new and expectant mothers since September 8.

Another mother named Maud (not pictured) said she felt like she could not breath while she was trying to push out her baby and described the experience as ‘traumatic’ for her and her partner. Pictured, an anonymous women waits to give birth while wearing a face mask 

The survey found that 75 per cent of women who have given birth during the COVID-19 pandemic show signs of postpartum depression, but campaign founder and spokesperson, Sonia Bisch noted that it is impossible to know what the statistic was before the pandemic because ‘in France we do not assess this’.

Ms Bisch, 40, said: ‘Even six months after the start of the epidemic in France, our hospitals are still not sufficiently equipped to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19.

‘The French state abandons women who give birth. It lets them give life while being masked. Childbirth, however, requires an intense physical effort. We know how important breathing properly is during childbirth.’

Ms Bisch said that some mothers had even bought FFP2-grade equipment for medical staff and asked them to wear it instead, but doctors mostly refused.

She added that it is astounding that in France you do not have to wear a face mask if you are jogging or doing physical activity, but you do if you are giving birth, even though childbirth is an extremely demanding physical activity comparable to running a marathon.

She said: ‘We would like the Minister of Health to provide maternity hospitals with FFP2 in order to protect nursing staff and to allow women who give birth not to wear a mask and to give birth in good conditions.

‘[There has been] no word from our Minister of Health Olivier Veran since the start of the pandemic on French maternity hospitals. No directive to guide maternity hospitals on the wearing of masks, nor on the presence of the dad during childbirth.

Women’s group ‘Tou.te.s Contre les violences Obstetricales et Gynecologiques’ (‘All Against Obstetrical and Gynaecological Violence’), headed up by Sonia Bisch (pictured) has collected testimony from over 2,000 new and expectant mothers

‘No word from him since the start of the pandemic and no word since the publication of our survey and the controversy that has swelled in France since the launch of our campaign.’

Her organisation has created a hashtag called ‪#StopAccouchementMasque (#StopMaskedBirth) that has generated thousands of responses.

They have also posted a list of mask-enforcing hospitals to make it easier for expecting mothers to make an informed choice about where and under which circumstances they wish to give birth.

Ms Bisch said: ‘Out of 2,700 replies to our survey, we only had ten people who tested positive for COVID.’ In all the other cases, the mask-wearing was merely a precautionary measure.

‘Before the summer, 46 per cent of women giving birth were made to wear face masks, now that number has risen to over 80 per cent,’ she said.

She also provided a map of France showing the number of what they categorised as cases of obstetrical violence, meaning poor medical care or discriminatory practices, that women reported to them. 

They are colour-coded ranging from green, 0 to 1 cases of violence, to yellow, 2 to 3 cases of violence, to orange, more than four cases of violence per woman.

As well as collecting testimonies, Mrs Bisch has a map which pinpoints the number of instances of obstetrical violence – colour-coded for ease: Green, 0 to 1 cases of violence, yellow, 2 to 3 cases of violence, and orange, more than four cases of violence per woman

The President at the National College of Midwives of France, Adrien Gantois, believes the figure is higher now than before the pandemic, and has argued that the focus should be on protecting staff by giving them improved PPE, as they do in the UK and the US, and has called for a localised review of the practice.

He said: ‘Wearing a mask during delivery is not practical.

‘The maternity hospitals that make it compulsory during this major physical exertion need to review their policy and prioritise the wearing of an FFP2 mask for the carers’.

Ms Bisch said that maternity wards claim they do not have enough high-grade PPE equipment so the Ministry of Health should step in and supply more.

She said: ‘In France, the health of women does not interest our government, we feel abandoned. If there were more women higher up, maybe there would be more empathy.’

A movement on social media is also taking place, with people expressing their confusion at the rules and other calling on women who are outraged by the mask requirements to attend meetings

A link between mask-wearing and complications during childbirth has not been published, but Mrs Bisch pointed out that no surveys have been conducted to determine women’s satisfaction rates during childbirth in France at all.

Mrs Bisch, who founded the collective after experiencing a medical act with a forceps without an anaesthetic during childbirth in 2015, told Real Press: ‘It is important that women giving birth be treated well in France.

‘I am fighting for other women, I fight to spare other women, because incidents like this during childbirth destroy lives and cause trauma.’ 

France is struggling with coronavirus and is currently the tenth hardest-hit country in the world, prompting the government to limit social interactions and impose heavy fines on people not wearing face masks in the public sphere.

France currently has had just more than 770,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and around 32,700 deaths so far, according to the latest Johns Hopkins University statistics.

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