Caring for a baby: Similarities and differences between China and Spain

Baby A. is already 8.5 months old! Time flies, right? By now I’ve had time to experience some differences in customs regarding child rearing. As with anything else, each place has their preferences and practices! I will list below some aspects that are done similarly or differently in Spain and China and explain what we do ourselves in our Chinese-Spanish family.


– Who’s the main caretaker?

In Spain, the maternity leave established by law is 16 weeks. After that, a working mother can either apply for unpaid leave, take the baby to daycare or hire a nanny. In China, the maternity leave depends on which province you are and it’s usually between 98 days and 1 year. When the mother goes back to work, the grandparents take care of the baby. I know daycare centres exist in China but most families don’t use them. As women retire when they are just 50 years old, grandmothers are expected to take care of the baby. Most of them really look forward to it as the main objective in the life of traditional Chinese people seems to be having grandchildren.

In our household: I had 6 months of maternity leave. At first my MIL moved in and later my FIL came too. They live here from Monday to Friday and go back to their place on the weekend. At first I was not sure how I was going to take it but it has been great. They are super helpful, not pushy and the baby loves them.

Baby A. with his grandpa. His face looks so fat in this picture!


– How should the baby look like?

I think in the old times a fat baby was a healthy baby basically everywhere. Food was not as readily available as it is today in most countries and many children did not live to see their 5th birthday. Being a chubby little fellow was a sign that things were going alright. Nowadays, in many countries doctors and researchers have already noticed the link between fat children and overweight adults, so fat babies are not so readily praised. In China, on the other hand, many people (especially elders) still have this “postwar mentality” and want their babies to be big and fat. Chinese grandmas are infamous for overfeeding babies! The traditional postpartum food served to mothers may also explain why mostly every Chinese baby I see is chubbier than mine.

In our household: Baby A. is long and skinny; he’s around the 30th percentile for weight (which means that 70% of healthy children of the same age weight more than he does). My MIL is ok with this and says it’s normal as C. and I were skinny babies too.

Well, he’s skinny but his feet are fat.


– What about pee and poo?

What about them, you might be thinking. In western countries, there’s only one answer to this question: diapers! In Spain, disposable diapers, specifically. I don’t think many people use cloth diapers there. In China, disposable diapers are also widely available now, and I saw there are many types of cloth diapers on Taobao, which means people must be using them. But the main difference is that here toilet training is started very early. Babies are held over a basin and cued with a whistling sound so they pee. When they can walk, many wear split pants, which facilitates squatting and doing their business without the need to remove several layers of clothes. Actually, the Chinese way (also done traditionally in many other places) has been “discovered” by Americans and renamed Elimination Communication or E.C. for short, a theory that encourages parents to observe their babies’ signals and give them the chance not to soil themselves.

In our household: I am against split pants because I find them hideous and unhygienic, specially if the child is sitting on the floor or outside, but I find the concept of giving the baby the chance to not soil himself very interesting. Since he was 5 months old, we’ve been doing what the Chinese call 把尿 ba niao by holding him in a squat position and cuing him to pee on a basin. We don’t aim to do it for every pee as he wears diapers anyway; we do it after waking up, before putting on a fresh diaper and before going to sleep and he pees almost every time. If he doesn’t pee, that’s fine too. Lately he started taking more time to poo (before it was almost instant) so we also started 把屎 ba shi: when he starts making his “pooping face”, we hold him above a basin or sit him on his little toilet. I can proudly say he pooped in his little toilet twice already, and many more on the basin (on the toilet he gets easily distracted so he sometimes forgets about his business there). No more messy diapers!


– Breastfeeding in public: yes or no?

I’m not sure how socially accepted breastfeeding is in Spain. I think it must be ok as, after all, top less women on the beach are not an uncommon sight. We are definitely not as scared of boobs as other countries which shall remain nameless but you all know which one I’m talking about, haha. In China, breastfeeding in public is not a problem at all and people don’t give a crap what you are doing. They might stare at me because I’m a foreigner, but not because I’m breastfeeding.

In our household: I always carry a muslin cloth and C. makes me use it if we are together (I think he doesn’t want other men to see my boobs, haha) but the truth is that even without the muslin, not much can be seen and no one cares anyway, as I said.

This does not happen in China. Boobs are also not so prominent in advertising.


– Out and about with the baby: convenient or not?

My experience in this regard might be very different from that of people living in other Chinese cities. I have to say, in Suzhou and particularly in my district, the Suzhou Industrial Park, going out with a baby is super convenient. There are changing stations and breastfeeding rooms in every mall (and A LOT of malls; you are never too far from one of them). Now that there is a government campaign to encourage breastfeeding, even public toilets have breastfeeding rooms. And public toilets are not the disgusting experience they used to be; they are now clean and well maintained and there’s even toilet paper and hand soap almost everywhere. Kudos to China for the successful “toilet revolution“. Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking that when I go to Spain I have no idea where I will change the diapers when I’m not home. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a public changing station in my hometown. Maybe all babies go home for their changes?

The changing room in one of the malls in Suzhou.