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PARENTS

Readers reveal: What it’s really like to give birth in Spain

Having a baby is an exciting experience, but it can also be daunting with many unknowns. Even if you’ve given birth before, having a baby in a new country where the language and customs are not your own, can be difficult. Here's everything you need to know about what it's like to give birth in Spain.

Giving birth in Spain
Photo: Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

Going private or public?

Many foreigners in Spain have private health insurance, meaning they can choose whether they want to give birth in private hospitals or in public ones. The general consensus among our readers who have given birth in Spain, was that it didn’t matter if you go private or public, as people had both positive and negative experiences with both.

Women didn’t think that by going private you necessarily had better facilities or were given better attention, so it all depends on the actual hospital itself. Several said they had chosen to go public because they had read that rates of cesarean sections were higher in private hospitals in Spain.

Generally, most mothers we spoke to had a positive birthing experience in Spain and felt that the doctors and midwives were very attentive wherever they went. 

Casandra Benalcazar, who had children in both public and private hospitals said: “[In the public hospital] it was actually a great experience. The encouragement was never done in a bad manner and they were always super respectful. In the private hospital, they wanted to do everything I didn’t want and didn’t respect my birth plan”.

Anja Alvarez Petrovic from Croatia agreed when she told us: “I had two babies here and as soon as I arrived in Spain, I learned that public hospitals are better for births than private ones”.

Maya Haim Cicos on the other hand had only had good things to say about the private hospital she gave birth at and not such a glowing review for the public one. “I gave birth twice at Quiron Hospital (in Barcelona) and the treatment, nurses and all the experiences were amazing. They treated me with the utmost care. Due to complications, I had to be transferred the same day to a public hospital and the maternity ward was horrible to say the least”.

Carol M. Arciniegas-Mendoza disagreed with this saying: “We gave birth in a private hospital twice and I expected better. From the moment our baby was born, it was a bad experience…. I was super disappointed with how the hospitals here treat mums after being discharged”.

Our advice is to do as much research as you can on the specific hospital you choose and its practices, so you know what to expect.

Pain management

Epidurals seem to be the pain management of choice in Spain. Epidurals are used in 98 percent of births, which gives you some idea of just how common they are here. Gas and air, which is widely used as pain management when giving birth in the UK, is not widely available. You may only find it at certain hospitals, but it’s not something you should expect to have access to.

Many women also told us that in Spain they increase the epidural when the time comes to start pushing, which seems in direct contrast to their experiences giving birth in other countries where they turn it down.  

Limited options for home births

There are limited options for home births in Spain, mostly because there is no insurance for delivery at home. If you do want to give birth at home and have a low-risk pregnancy, this is something you’ll have to organise and often pay for yourself too.

Anna Korenromp told us that in the Netherlands, “home births are big things, as well as doing it completely naturally”, but that here she did not have that option.

If you really want a home birth in Spain though, it is possible. Nina Krause told us: “I gave birth in Malaga and it was a home birth with midwives (all paid from my pocket). The experience was amazing, and if I have another child, I would wish exactly the same”.

What’s it like to give birth in Spain? Photo: Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Alternative birth plans

Many hospitals in Spain are more traditional when it comes to birth plans, offering limited options for things such as water births, pilates balls, and walk-in birthing showers. However, if these are things that are important to you and you want to do things a little alternatively, then you will find hospitals in Spain that offer them, you may just have to do more research and looking around first.

Is there anything I should be aware of?

Yes, you should be particularly aware of something called the Kristeller manoeuvre, which is not uncommon in Spain, but is actually banned in some other countries such as the UK. The manoeuvre is when the doctor or midwife forcefully presses down on the mother’s womb in a series of strong, sharp movements to create fundal pressure and help deliver the baby during the second stage of labour. It was found to be used in approximately 26 percent of births in Spain. 

READ ALSO: Parents’ reveal: These are the best and worst things about having children in Spain

The World Health Organisation doesn’t recommend the technique because of the potential for broken bones, organ damage, and other complications.

Lindsay Forrest told us: “I specified I didn’t want it used before my birth, but was convinced by my doctor while in the midst of pushing that it was necessary”.

Jasmine Sic also had the manoeuvre performed during the birth of her child in Spain. “I was begging them to stop pressing because it was super painful and was make me throw up, but they wouldn’t stop. The doctor also said it was necessary”.

If you do not want this manoeuvre practiced when you give birth, make sure the doctors know. Tell them verbally and also put it in writing in your birth plan.

Paperwork 

Like many things in Spain, the birthing experience is also hampered down by bureaucracy and paperwork. Many mothers reached out to us to say that the paperwork was one of the most frustrating things about giving birth in Spain and unlike in other countries, you’re expected to do it all yourself. 

Patricia Adjovi told us: “I was mostly surprised that you have to do all the paperwork yourself, and I didn’t find it easy at all. In Denmark, where I’m from, the midwife does all the paperwork when the baby is born, so you can focus on taking care of your newborn instead of running around to 100 different offices to get the birth certificate”.

Shayna Black agreed when she told us: “Our first outing with the baby (before we were ready) was forced on us by an archaic bureaucratic system. I could barely walk and it was a really hot day. So stressful!”

Member comments

  1. I gave birth in the Ourense public hospital in 2014. I had a natural birth just the way I wanted my baby to be born, with no epidural – it was a fantastic experience. However, to a large extent this was because I had prepared myself physically and emotionally, was clear about how I wanted to give birth and was confident enough in myself to insist on help when I needed it. Culturally and individually I was not afraid of the birth process or of the pain of childbirth as many of the local mothers-to-be in the hospital at the same time as me. I was lucky in that I simply and naturally trusted my body and the natural birth process. Most of the other women were very afraid of the pain and were quite ignorant about the actual natural birth process and what happens in a woman´s body and mind during birth – they didn´t see birth as an experience, more as a trial to be endured. I recommend going on a tour of a Spanish hospital before giving birth. I did, and so was familiar with the resources for natural birth including portable monitors (I had a dread of being strapped to a normal monitor which I´d have to lug around with me and not be able to move around during labour). So when I was admitted I knew what to ask for and I always felt I was in control of my own labour – and the hospital staff respected my preferences during labour and were great. HOWEVER. In 2014, at least, the public health system in Ourense was definitely still geared up to channel women to a) to have an epidural b) bottle feed newborns. The (male) hospital anaesthetist with whom I had a routine pre-birth consultation, was arrogant, consciously encouraged me to opt for an epidural, presented it as “normal”, and when I expressed my doubts, told me that having an epidural was like “taking an aspirin for a headache” which I was shocked – obviously it´s nothing like taking an aspirin and has potential consequences that mothers to be should know about. He did not answer my questions about the greater probability of having a caesarian section or forceps birth as a result of having an epidural, nor that birth might take longer if I opted for an epidural, but was defensive and irritated by my questions. I was fuming afterwards – knowing that many younger women would not feel able to challenge a “professional” and just go with it, as opposed to making an informed choice. The reason why so many more Spanish than UK mothers have epidurals is obviously cultural and reinforced by the hospital system.
    My newborn was initially reluctant to latch on to breast feed and instead of receiving adequate and understanding support by the hospital staff I was constantly pressured to accept bottle milk. However, I had inside knowledge of how the hospital worked thanks to the midwife who gave me pre-natal classes. She told me specifically that if I had breast feeding issues I could ask to see breast feeding specialists on another floor of the hospital. I´m just lucky I was sufficiently confident to ask for this help, and insist, when I met with resistence from the ward nurses who were defensive and didn´t want me to consult staff on another floor. As a result I was able to access more sympathetic help from specialist staff, who gave me tips, told me my breasts were fine and gave me confidence! And thanks to their support and my own persistence, my daughter started breast feeding no problem and I was able to give her the best start in life!

  2. PS – I should also say that the pre-natal care, the routine checkups etc leading up to birth were all great. Spain still has a great NHS, despite cuts.

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MONEY

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.

READ MORE:

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.

Santander

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.

BBVA

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.

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