On Saturday the 4th of June ago a well known Spanish children’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ibone Olza, who also works for the main organization in Spain that campaigns to protect the rights of women and children at birth, “El Parto es Nuestro” (Birth is ours). Informed some of us via Facebook that a Moroccan mother, Habiba had been separated from her 15 month old daughter while she was in the care of a shelter, IMMF Instituto Madrileño del Menor y la Familia (Madrilean Institute for the Minor and the Family), she had accepted to go to this shelter due to her bad economical situation. Apparently this shelters have a psychoterapy/maternal habilities program that involves taking medication to stop the milk production, as breastfeeding is considered “chaotic” and “damaging” and also because it will make more difficult putting the child for adoption if this need arises.
When Habiba refused to follow this regulations the centre decided to separate mother and daughter, without following any legal procedure, without allowing her to say bye to her daughter and without communicating to her where were they taking her baby. After this and since the shelter is is a centre for parents with their children, since she longer had no child, the centre put Habiba back on the streets.
Habiba is suffering not only emotionally but she is suffering from engorgement and she is on the edge of developing mastitis. Dr. Ibone is trying to help by having Habiba to express milk and taking it to the IMMF, who after a lot of persuasion are keeping the milk, we do not know what are they doing with it, as breastfeeding is not allowed in any of the shelters in Madrid.
Both a psychiatrist and a psychologist have evaluated Habiba and there are no evidence of a need to be separated from her daughter, if anything there is a clear stress from the abrupt separation.
Habiba has found legal representation through an organisation that is now looking after her, and she was allowed on the 9th of June to see her daughter only for one hour, making the situation even more painful and distressing for both mother and daughter.
This places are suposed to be supportive, there are meant to be places to care for families when they find themselves in any sort of trouble, such as sexual abuse, economical problems, etc...They shouldn't be abusing power and inflicting yet more pain.
Apart from its psychological importance, breastfeeding reduces the incidence of infectious diseases, chronic diseases and auto-immune diseases, offers optimal development and growth, cognitive and visual development and evidence suggests that it decreases the risk of obesity. The benefits of breastfeeding extend throughout the whole life cycle. In the global context, breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding help fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and have the potential to reduce under-5 mortality by 19%. (ref 1).
The decision to separate breastfeeding mothers from their babies flies in the face of a number of UN Resolutions and conventions, including the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the 12 subsequent WHA resolutions, the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, UNICEF’s Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative and the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding, which all stress the critical importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life with nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding alongside continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years and beyond. Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child also recognizes the contribution breastfeeding makes to the fulfilment of the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health.
1 Jones G et al. (2003) How many child deaths can we prevent this year? The Lancet, no 362, 65-71.
The situation has now spread to the main papers in Spain (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/sociedad/Separada/hija/darle/pecho/elpepusoc/20110608elpepusoc_9/Tes) and some international webs and associations. And there is both Spanish and International support group in Facebook, with around 4,000 supporters so far.
The situation is simply intolerable, it was discovered by Habiba's lawyer that when they went to visit the baby at the centre it was only 2 guardians to look after 42 children with ages ranging from 0-6. Amongst them Habiba's baby.
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The letter sent in Spanish is a template, and it quotes different sources like WHO and UNICEF to reiterate the importance of breastfeeding till two, on demand and the right of mother and child to be kept together.