The harsh reality of Spanish maternity

Pregnant women

Christmas has been celebrated, the Three Kings have come and gone, presents have been opened and now the children are back at school, leaving me to enjoy my maternity leave with my new baby.
All three weeks of it. Hang on a minute, I have a baby who is three months old today, who still wakes in the night, every night, to feed and in just 21 days she and I are supposedly ready to be separated so that I can go back to work? In Spain 16 weeks or 112 days is considered sufficient time to care for and bond with your new baby.
So what about breastfeeding? Aren’t we being told that ‘breast is best’? Yes, even here in Spain the doctors are becoming more and more pro-breastfeeding. So how exactly am I supposed to continue giving my baby the best start in life while going back to work?
Truth be told I’m one of the lucky ones as my work is quite flexible and I think, if I organise myself well (not one of my strong points though) I should be able to get through the two months until she starts on solids, with a combination of feeding and expressing.
But what about those mothers who have to be at work for eight hours each day? For them expressing milk to cover so many hours must be nigh on impossible.
The World Health Organisation recommends six months exclusive breastfeeding so surely waiting until the baby begins to be weaned onto solids would be a sensible minimum period of maternity leave.
However, the European minimum is just 14 weeks (three and a half months or 98 days) and it’s rather a lottery as to whether or not you happen to live in a country which sticks to this minimum or gives longer maternity leave.
An attempt by the European Parliament to increase the minimum to 20 weeks in December last year was rejected by member states, as was a separate proposal of 18 weeks brought by the European Commission.
One of the wealthier member states, Germany, where maternity leave is the bare minimum of 14 weeks, was among the countries against the proposal and German Family Minister Kristina Schroeder (CDU) defended the German system saying that it gave ‘one of the highest protection levels throughout Europe’ and said that a longer 20-week maternity leave would cost Germany an additional €1.2 billion.
So how do the different countries compare?
According to UN statistics Germany, Malta and Switzerland are the only European states with the minimum maternity leave period, and just up from that, at 16 weeks, is Spain, along with France, Austria, Poland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Monaco and Andorra. So why, at the other extreme, do the UK and Denmark allow a year for maternity leave and some countries have more than a year; Norway gives 46-56 months and Sweden 480 days.
Even supposedly poorer countries like Albania, Croatia and Serbia give new mothers a year.
If it all hinges on cost, who is richer, the mother who has to rush back to work when her baby is just four months old or the mother who can enjoy caring for her baby during the first year of their life? 
Read what the WHO has to say about breastfeeding
For the full statistics of maternity leave around the world


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