Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Two Sides to Breastfeeding in Spain

On the face of it Spain looks like it's a very breastfeeding-friendly place to be.  Certainly in my neck of the woods a high number of women breastfeed and do so openly in public without anyone batting an eye.  Whether this is more down to living in a rural area as opposed to a big city I couldn't honestly say, but I would love other expat mothers to comment on how breastfeeding is perceived in their local area.

Spain is also (to my knowledge), the only country that allow fathers breastfeeding rights in the workplace until the infant is 9 months old.  Not entirely sure how this works, but hey it's progressive and forward thinking right?

Then I came across a guest post on PhD in Parenting, highlighting the plight of a mother who has had her baby taken away from her.  Habiba (an assumed name) is a young woman of Moroccan descent who had the misfortune to be living in a women's shelter in Madrid, her 15 month old baby, Alma, was taken away from her because she refused to stop breastfeeding.

Apparently in Spain, women's shelters do not allow mothers to breast feed and they are given medication to dry up their milk supply.  The bizarre reasoning behind this cruel act being that should the child need to be adopted out at a later date it will be easier.  Easier for who exactly?  For women who will probably, due to financial reasons, struggle to feed their child well after they (naturally) wean, surely it's in the best interest of the child to give it the best start in life, nutritional wise?  For the percentage of infants that do get adopted out (I don't have any figures but it can't be that high can it?) I would imagine that they will go through an emotional turmoil being separated from their mother, regardless of whether they need weaning or not.

This news has devastated me and prompted me to spend much of the afternoon googling facts about breastfeeding generally in Spain.  I was surprised to find that UNICEF have no official data for breastfeeding rates in Spain.  NO DATA?  Are you kidding me, this is Spain not North Korea!  Why is a first world country, one that is part of the EU, not documenting breast feeding rates?

I shouldn't be surprised really though, my own experience of medical records, or rather lack of them, has shown that Spain is woefully adept at not keeping medical records. I've been pregnant 4 times and each time I have had to give my complete history. Surely after the first time the initial data should be stored in the computer it's typed into and then added to?

Amongst the many questions I am asked each time I see a midwife for the first time in a pregnancy is what my husband studied and where?  Quite what bearing having a Degree in Economics from Nottingham University has on our unborn child who only can say, but the information has been imparted and typed into a record of some description 4 times now.

Surely a question re breastfeeding could be asked at the many pediatrician visits we have as a Mother and Baby, upto the child is 3 years old.  Thus building an accurate and current database of breastfeeding statistics?  Not difficult really is it?

Maybe Spain is embarrassed of its low breastfeeding rates, by all accounts it shouldn't be.  The figures I could find on the internet have ratios between 91% and 84% of new mothers starting breastfeeding, although those figures predictably decline as the baby ages, with anything from 25%-30% of mothers still breastfeeding at 6 months, depending on different sources.  Whilst Spain isn't exactly challenging the Scandinavian countries it appears to be holding its own in Europe.

You can find more details of Habiba's situation on this Facebook page and there is a petition you can sign.