The perks and quirks of having a baby in Spain

Being a new mother in a foreign country comes with a whole host of new challenges and cultural conventions to get used to. Here are ten things American mum Carrie Jaxon learnt from having a newborn in Spain.

The perks and quirks of having a baby in Spain
Carrie Jaxon with her husband, Alberto and their son, Ethan. Photo: Baco Cid

Carrie Jaxon, born and bred in Alabama, had been living in Madrid for nearly ten years and believed she had adjusted pretty well to the Spanish way of life.

But then baby came along and with him a whole host of new challenges and cultural conventions that have taken some getting used to. Here is her list of the ten quirks and perks of having a baby in Spain to guide you through the pregnancy and the new baby stage in your adopted country.

Maternity leave

For starters – it exists! Sixteen weeks to be with your newborn is the norm here.  And if you desire more time off, in many cases that can be arranged without the danger of losing your job completely. 

Paternity leave in Spain was also raised to 16 weeks in 2021, equal to that of maternity leave, and there’s now talk new mums and dads could soon get 24 weeks.

Get ready to be treated like royalty

A photo of a pregnant woman:Shutterstock

Spaniards just LOVE BABIES. In general you are regarded with the upmost respect when visible pregnancy sets in and onward. People will rush to give up their seat in the metro or bus, and if they don’t, expect to hear someone standing make a fuss at them for not doing so.   Even when carrying the new tot, people are quick to rise, which is good news for the urban wrap momma!

Forget covering up!

One of the best perks of having a baby in Spain, is the ease of breastfeeding. It’s no easy task being a new mom and learning the ropes of feeding your child in public. In fact, the first time I embarked in a public feed a woman came up and commented on how cute he was, as he was attached to my chest…. because they see no shame, as one shouldn’t. It’s pretty awesome.

Random strangers will kiss your baby.

A photo of a baby with kisses on his face:Shutterstock

Friends warned me about this one before it happened. And then, one day when I least expected it, two middle-aged women stopped me to gawk at my two-month-old tucked away against my chest in a wrap…and then both leaned in to kiss him on the head. I could literally smell their breath.

Tip: add an extra 10 minutes to get anywhere due to the high probability you will get stopped by a stranger, or 3 wanting to peek in at baby on your route and get asked a string of questions. And possibly a comment about how warmly (or not) they are dressed.

There is a crazy shoe obsession.  

A photo of baby shoes:Shutterstock

On top of the need to comment on how baby is dressed is the ever pressing need to comment on the fact that a baby needs to wear shoes. Shoes…on a baby….who doesn’t walk? Baffling.

Babies poop. A lot.

And it can be assumed that there will not be a diaper changing table in any restaurant or bar in the close proximity. So learning to become a “super-diaper-changing-ninja” is a must. My personal experience has led me to changing my baby on my lap, on someone else’s lap, in the stroller, on the bathroom floor, on a closed toilet, in the park. The good news? Spaniards typically don’t bat an eye when they see it.

Gender confusion is rampant.

Spaniards seem only able to tell if a baby is a boy or girl based on whether they wear earrings or not. So if a girl’s ears aren’t pierced shortly after birth then even if they are clad head to toe in pink, they will get mistaken for a boy all the time. The gender confusion really just makes me laugh, but just a heads up – it’s very present here.

Spaniards speak their mind when it comes to bringing up baby.

 Unsolicited and passive aggressive advice as well as blunt comments are by far the biggest quirk.  Of course we should all expect it from our moms, sisters and close friends with children, but in Spain get ready to hear it from everyone! I once spent the queue at the fishmonger being lectured by the woman in front of me – a complete stranger – as to why the Moby wrap I was using wasn’t safe. Put a smile on your face and have a response ready to stop them in their tracks.

Oh, also, people are not afraid to tell you if they don’t like your baby’s name.

People keep their babies up way past midnight.

A photo of a baby falling asleep in his cot:Shutterstock

While my preoccupation is to try to get the little one down to sleep early my Spanish counterparts are all sitting out on the terraces with perfectly contented babe-in-arms or even toddlers while they slowly sip a caña. How do they manage it? My half-American blooded baby would certainly have a meltdown if kept up much past his normal bedtime of 8pm.

Speaking of cañas… a definite perk here is being able to take your baby to a bar. Not one soul here would even wince at that sight. Marvelous!

Baby perfume.

Yep, you heard me right. Taking that sweet, freshly bathed newborn and dousing them in a fragrance made for babies is somewhat of an obsession in Spain. It’s almost comical. Expect this as a gift from at least one person. And if you don’t receive it, you can have my unopened one.


Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.