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‘I got looks of kindness’: Is breastfeeding in public considered ok in Spain?

The World Health Organisation and the UN recognise breastfeeding as a human right and, therefore, consider it appropriate anywhere and at any time, but what are people's attitudes to doing it in public in Spain?

'I got looks of kindness': Is breastfeeding in public considered ok in Spain?
Is breastfeeding ok in public in Spain? Photo: Dave Clubb / Unsplash

Spain’s, Equality Law protects mothers who want to breastfeed their children in public, which means that any mother in Spain has the legal right to breastfeed her children in public without feeling threatened, criticised or insulted.

This is also covered in article 24.2 of Law 7/1997 of July 4th, which authorises business owners not to admit certain clients to their businesses if they behave violently, cause inconvenience to the public or other users or alter the normal development of the activity. But, the law also considers it to be an abuse of this right if you use it to restrict access in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.

This means that if you’re in any type of establishment, store, swimming pool, cafe or restaurant, they cannot refuse you the right of admission if you are breastfeeding or throw you out if you decide to it there. 

Some regions have gone even further to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. In 2015 the Basque Government formally recognised the practice as a right and included it in its health system regulations. Then in 2016, Valencia approved a proposal to recogise the right of mothers to breastfeed their children in any public space. A year later in 2017, the Pamplona City Council followed in its footsteps, declaring all municipal offices, from streets and parks to schools and cultural centres, as open spaces for breastfeeding.

The laws may be in place to protect those who want to breastfeed, but how do mothers in Spain actually feel about carrying out this practice in public, do they feel comfortable enough and have they experienced any problems? 

READ ALSO: Five things you should know about Spain’s new Family Law

How do foreign mothers in Spain feel about breastfeeding in public?

The Local spoke to several foreign residents in Spain to find out what their experiences have been and how they compare to breastfeeding in public back in their home countries. 

Generally, most women we interviewed felt very comfortable with breastfeeding in public in Spain and the majority said it was much more widely accepted here than back in their home countries. 

Kate Weatherby from the UK who lives in Barcelona said: “I definitely feel more comfortable here than in the UK. I’ve had strangers talk to me, come closer to look at the baby feeding and say how cute he is, even touch him while he was feeding. Whereas in the UK when you get out a boob, everyone either leaves to ‘let the baby feed in peace’, or they stop making eye contact! That’s friends and family as well, not just strangers”. 

Marti Buckley who is from the US and lives San Sebastián had a similar opinion saying that with her daughter who was born in 2019, she felt very comfortable breastfeeding anywhere. “The Basque Country is such a matriarchy with a strong presence of women, people don’t give it a second thought,” she explained. 

She added that it was so much easier to breastfeed in public in Spain than back in the States where her first daughter was born. “I definitely remember feeling like I had to get up from a table and completely and totally hide any skin if I was going to breastfeed in public. I remember also feeling like it was almost a requirement to act apologetic about it,” she said. 

Lucy Grainger, also from the UK, agreed that with her first in the UK she was expected to cover up, but with her second in Spain, she felt completely different. “I would breastfeed whenever she wanted, often on the go in the carrier – which is a common practice here. I would sit in plazas and feed her on trains and the Metro too”.

What are people’s attitudes to breastfeeding in public in Spain? Photo: Wren Meinberg / Unsplash

But it wasn’t just those from other English-speaking countries who feel that Spain has a much more relaxed attitude to breastfeeding in public.

Steffi De Nancy from France said: “In Spain, sometimes I receive looks of kindness, affection or admiration (and also indifference). I have never been looked at badly. I have felt this all over Spain, even in smaller towns,” she stated. 

This was in contrast to how she feels in France, where she “notices more stares as if it were something weird or not so frequent. I think there is a problem there with how breastfeeding is perceived in public places there,” she explained.

Another reader who preferred not to be named said that in Barcelona she’s had no problems and feels very relaxed breastfeeding, but “in my husband’s village near Zaragoza it’s more conservative and I’ve had a couple of comments,” she added. 

“In Catalonia, I’ve never had a problem even in small villages. I now live in a town outside the capital and everyone’s been very supportive”. 

Not everyone feels the same

One reader, Eva Šalplachtová from the Czech Republic, however, did not agree with the sentiment of the majority. She explained that in her country breastfeeding is both common and encouraged. “In my social group breastfeeding became almost a religion,” she said.

When she came to Spain she said that most of the other mothers breastfeeding in playgrounds and open spaces were from Central Europe or Germany. “To be honest, I have never had a feeling of being observed while breastfeeding until I came to Spain,” she added.

What about when it comes to breastfeeding toddlers?

Not only are attitudes to breastfeeding in public different in Spain to other countries, but the ages at which it’s socially acceptable to breastfeed changes too. 

“In the UK anything beyond age one and you’re getting questions about when you’re planning on stopping… I did feel a bit self-conscious when my second son was born and I was feeding both of them in public because my 2-year-old suddenly looked ridiculously huge next to his brother!” Kate Weatherby said.

Eva Šalplachtová, on the other hand, said that in the Czech Republic, it’s common to breastfeed until the child is around 3-4 years, but in Spain, her friends were surprised that she was breastfeeding a one-year-old. “Once I was told by our neighbour that she has never seen a toddler nursing” she added, saying that sometimes she had received negative comments too. 

Lucy Grainger had found the opposite in Spain, saying that she found it far more normal to breastfeed older children here. “In the UK you don’t really see babies older than 6 months being breastfed… In Spain, I breastfed my youngest until three and never felt I had to hide that”. 

Another reader who preferred not to be named echoed this feeling saying: “I’ve had a very positive experience breastfeeding in Spain, even with a toddler – I’m too embarrassed to breastfeed my toddler in England in public”. 

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How Spain’s new toy gender neutrality law works

Cars for girls, dolls for boys and no more pink and blue. For Spain's left-wing government and the toy industry, it's game over for gender stereotypes when it comes to the country's littlest citizens.

How Spain's new toy gender neutrality law works

Since December 1st, a code of ethics has been in place encouraging toy shops and manufacturers to “avoid gender bias” when marketing toys in Spain, in guidelines agreed with the consumer affairs ministry.

Toy Planet, a Spanish chain based near the eastern resort of Valencia, has been following this strategy for the past decade in adverts for its own-brand toys.

Flicking through its catalogue, one image shows a girl with a toy gun wearing a police vest, another shows a girl hitting a punchbag, while another portrays a boy pushing a pram.

“Toys play a very important role in what sort of adults we become. So let’s not be the ones to create prejudice from such an early age,” said Toy Planet’s director Ignacio Gaspar.

“It’s important if we want to see a future in which a boy could become a midwife or a girl could become a mechanic.”

What drove the change back in 2012 was the realisation that Toy Planet was coming under fire on social media for its unimaginative publicity.

“We started using images that were the opposite: boys playing with dolls, girls using tool benches,” Gaspar said.

But the switch wasn’t easy.

“People said it would make boys more effeminate or turn girls into tomboys,” he said.

Out with the pink and blue

A pioneer in feminist initiatives, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pushed through several schemes to tackle gender-based violence as well as advancing equality and women’s rights.

Under the new code of ethics, advertisements can no longer say a toy is for a particular gender, or designate pink for girls and blue for boys, which is deemed to reinforce outdated gender roles.

Signed by the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers (AEFJ), which represents 90 percent of the industry in Spain, it took a year to draw up, said Rafael Escudero of the consumer affairs ministry.

But its scope remains limited since it does not affect packaging, street advertising or toy shop catalogues, Escudero added.

There are no sanctions for those who fail to comply, who only run a “reputational risk”, and major international brands are not affected.

“It’s obviously not enough but it’s necessary if we want to move forwards,” said Escudero.

On Gran Vía, Madrid’s main shopping street where people are out Christmas shopping, Julio César Araujo, 62, has a clear idea of what to buy his grandchildren.

“For the girls, it’s dolls and things like that,” he says, then adds: “But if you have a girl who wants to play with cars, you’ll buy her a car. If she wants to play with boys’ toys, she can.”

‘An educational responsibility’

Nathalie Rodríguez, 48, owner of Kamchatka which sells “educational, non-sexist, environmentally-friendly and non-violent toys”, believes toy sellers have “an educational responsibility”.

“Toys themselves aren’t sexist, but it’s the way they are perceived by the adults that design and make them, who sell and market them,” Rodriguez explains.

“A catalogue with a picture of a boy wearing a baby sling is what we’re aiming for.”

Rodriguez says that with some customers, she will “gently try to break down silly ideas.”

“When a grandfather says he doesn’t want a cooker because he’s buying for a boy, you tell him it makes no sense in a country with the highest number of internationally-recognised chefs,” she says.

Tania San José, a 41-year-old mother and teacher from the northern town of Pamplona, thinks it’s about time the government stepped in with some rules.

“Unfortunately, there are still toys for boys and toys for girls but in our generation, we’re trying to change that,” she says.

Ángela Muñoz, 47, believes society has evolved a lot already.

“I could buy a doll for my son so he could have the chance to play like the girls do,” she said.

“That way both sexes have the same opportunities to play.”