PEÑÍSCOLA'S beaches will all have baby-changing and feeding huts from this summer, the counciil in the Castellón province town has announced.
And already, heated debates have appeared on discussion fora and social networks, as many interpret this move as an attempt to keep breast-feeding out of sight of the public, whilst others argue that 'such things belong in private'.
Luckily in Spain, breast-feeding in public is permitted anywhere, and the country is one of the most modern in the western world in its approach to family childcare: it is rare to find a shopping centre, restaurant or department store where the baby-changing facilities are only in the women's toilets – they are either in a separate cabin from the lavatories altogether, or are present in the ladies' and the gents', meaning dads out with their infants when they are 'caught short' do not have the embarrassment of nipping into the women's bathroom to put clean nappies on their babies.
But many Spaniards say the attitude to public breast-feeding, socially, is becoming more and more 'old-fashioned': mums whose children are now adults say they breast-fed their babies in public in the 1960s and 1970s without a hint of self-consciousness and without 'offending' anyone, even at a time when women wearing bikinis on beaches could be arrested for 'indecency'.
Those who 'take offence' are in the minority, and are usually met with arguments that a baby's right to be fed comes before their own rights to 'not have to look the other way', or that anyone who sees breast-feeding as 'sexual' or 'exposure' has 'a real psychological problem'.
And this has thrown into question what Peñíscola's intentions are with the baby-changing and feeding huts.
“Why would I want to take my baby into a stuffy hut with no air-conditioning on a swelteringly hot day, putting the infant's health at risk, and sitting on an uncomfortable and sticky plastic chair, instead of feeding him or her outside in the breeze?” asked a woman who writes a blog on a Spanish-language news site under the pseudonym Madre Reciente ('New Mother').
Some female commenters point out that there may be mothers who, even though it should not be a problem in this day and age, feel personally self-conscious about breast-feeding in public and would welcome somewhere they could do it privately.
A lady councillor in Peñíscola clarified the argument, backing up mothers' 'right to privacy' if that is what they wish for, but also pointing out that the huts 'help make feeding more comfortable' as mum and baby are away from the breeze, sand-storms and direct sunlight.
Also, she says, the huts are not there to 'force mothers indoors' for breast-feeding – or even baby-changing, which she stresses they can do on the beach if they want – but for the 'general comfort and convenience of mothers and fathers alike'.
“The huts are placed there for mums and dads to use in whatever way they see fit when attending to their infants' or children's needs, and certainly not to pander to the 'rights' of others to not have to see a hungry baby being fed,” she stresses.
Most commenters recall that there is no law in Spain against women sunbathing topless on the beach, albeit these days it is a less-frequent sight than in the late 1970s through to the 1990s, they say.
Photograph by Peñíscola town hall