Having a baby in Spain
If you're having a baby in Spain, here's a guide to Spanish prenatal care, delivery, aftercare, and maternity and paternity leave in Spain.
Spanish healthcare is of a high standard, and free for residents who work and live in Spain and contribute to social security. If you're living and working in Spain, you'll likely be paying income tax towards state healthcare cover that includes maternity services, although only private healthcare insurance will cover giving birth in private or specialised facilities.
Spanish maternity care
The degree of medical contact with pregnant women is reasonably high in Spain, with more antenatal tests, scans and intervention during childbirth than would happen in some other countries, such as the UK. The standard of care in Spain is highly regarded, both public and private, although women are generally required to have held their private insurance policy for a certain amount of time to cover maternity costs (eg. 6–12 months), while state healthcare does not have any time restrictions. In the larger cities, such as Barcelona and Madrid, maternity facilities are very comprehensive, ranging from large hospitals to smaller clinics. Larger facilities are usually run under the social security system, while smaller providers are via private health insurance.
The traditional option of birth in a hospital is by far the most common in Spain, although in some areas home births are becoming available.
Prenatal care in Spain
Once you think you may be pregnant you are advised to see a doctor as soon as possible to confirm the pregnancy and be examined. Routine blood tests and ultrasound scans will be arranged. Many clinics have a community midwife who will arrange antenatal appointments, generally once a month with progress recorded in the consultation document, or 'mothers’ passport'.
Your next port of call will be the local hospital for a scan. A number of tests will be conducted including for diabetes, toxoplasmosis and HIV. You will also have regular blood and urine tests, possibly monthly. In most cases the midwife will schedule you for a scan once month up until the 32nd week of pregnancy, at which point the frequency of appointments will increase to once every two weeks. As the birth draws nearer there will also be a test for streptococcus B, which is compulsory in state hospitals. Should you be receiving treatment from a private hospital, then the test will only be carried out upon request.
Maternity care is not included under the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme that covers public healthcare for EU nationals, so all foreigners should make sure their Spanish health insurance and social security has been sorted out. Being registered for social security is also necessary to receive the standard maternity leave of 16 weeks. In order to qualify you must have been paying contributions for a set period of time (zero for mothers under 21; 90 days for mothers aged between 21 and 26; or 180 days for mothers over 26 or 360 days in their entire working life in Spain).
Delivery in Spain
When you go to the hospital to give birth you should go to the emergency ward (urgencias) of the local hospital, and take your passport, foreign identification card (NIE) and necessary paperwork. English is not always widely spoken so it is sensible to have someone with you who can speak Spanish to ask questions and communicate your preferences concerning medical treatment. Spanish hospitals will have standard operating procedures that they don’t necessarily run past patients, so it is important to have someone to explain what is happening and to speak up for you.
Similar to Germany, hospitals in Spain do not allow gas or air, although epidurals and pethidine are available. You may like to write your birthing plan in Spanish and take it with you – an example (in Spanish) can be found here.
Home births in Spain, meanwhile, are rare and not covered by the state health system.
Immediately following the birth, the baby's health will be thoroughly assessed based on the Apgar score, which rates the baby's condition with particular focus on heart rate, breathing and reflexes. An overall score of between zero and 10 will be given, with 10 being the highest. Any concerns about the score will be addressed by the doctor or midwife. A score of seven or higher usually indicates that the baby is in good health, but a lower score doesn't necessarily mean there will be any long-term health problems for the newborn.
Some common duties performed by nurses in other countries, such as supporting new mothers with personal care, are not generally done by nurses in Spain, and partners, family or friends are generally required to help. You can have one visitor with you throughout your time in hospital, including at night.
Most mothers leave the maternity hospital within five days, in which time at least two checks on the newborn will have been completed. A final examination will include a scan and you will be given an infant record book to track the child’s condition and health appointments until the age of 18. The baby will also have a blood test at one week to determine if there are any genetic defects.
When you are being discharged the hospital will give you a yellow form to register the birth, Cuestionario para la Declaración de Nacimiento en el Registro Civil. Check the information is correct (especially your baby's name) and that it is signed by the midwife or doctor who delivered your baby.
You must register your baby at the local Civil Registry Office (Registro Civil) within eight days of the birth. If there is a valid reason a delay of up to 30 days is allowed. If you intend to apply for a non-Spanish passport for your baby, remember to ask for a full birth certificate (certificación literal). In addition to the documentation provided by the hospital, you must also bring any national insurance documents belonging to the parents and a marriage certificate, which must be translated into Spanish. If the baby is born outside of marriage, then both parents must attend the registry office. It is generally advisable to bring your passports and identity cards (and copies), in case they are required to verify your identity.
You can also sign your child up to social security, which can provide access to free vaccinations.
Fathers receive only 15 days of paid paternity leave but are entitled to take three years of unpaid leave. The government plan to increase paternity leave to one month in 2015 was put on hold for economic reasons. Similar to mothers, the minimum contribution period is 180 days within the last 7 years or at least 365 days during the entire working life in Spain.
To apply for leave, you must fill out a form with the Spanish social security office.
Tips for mothers in Spain
- Spaniards adore babies – expect passerbys to ask questions, peek into your stroller, play with or kiss your baby or openly offer opinions on your child-raising choices, even your baby's name.
- Public breastfeeding is acceptable – in general, you do not need to worry about covering up.
- The Spanish population are generally respectful to pregnant women and new mothers, and will give up their seat on public transport or risk the disapproval of a bystander.
- Strangers are open to sharing their mothering advice; a common comment will be on whether your baby is dressed appropriately for the weather or if your baby isn't wearing shoes or something to keep their feet warm.
- It is not uncommon for baby girls to get their ears pierced, which helps avoid gender confusion, so don't be offended if people mix up your baby's gender if you opt not to do it.
- Children are accepted into all parts of society. It is acceptable to take a stroller into restaurants and bars, and children are allowed to stay up late with adults. Nor will you get disapproving looks for having a screaming baby in public.
- Not all facilities cater to babies, and you may find restaurants and bars lack change tables. In such cases, people are generally not bothered if you change your baby in public.
Expatica / Updated by Bupa Global
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Updated 2013; July 2015.