Mother Loses Custody of Child for Refusing to Wean

Adriana Velez

breastfeeding babyIt seems there's no shortage of people out there who love telling mothers how to feed their children. Don't nurse in public! Cover up! Go breastfeed in the bathroom! And now, get your baby on solids and stop nursing on demand or we'll take away your baby.

This latest outrage comes out of a battered women's shelter in Spain. Reportedly, a Moroccan immigrant named Habiba has been separated from her 15-month-old because she refused to wean her baby and instead continued nursing on demand, including to comfort her baby. And that's just the beginning.

As Spanish mom Louma Sader Bujana describes in her blog Amor Maternal, Habiba was in financial distress and checked into a shelter, Instituto Madrileno del Menor y Familia (Madrilean Institute for the Minor and Family, or IMMF). IMMF's policy is to encourage mothers to wean their babies quickly, even administering drugs to speed up the process.we are all habiba

But in defiance, Habiba continued to nurse her baby on demand, often to comfort her baby, a practice the IMMF reportedly considers "chaotic" and "damaging." They also didn't like how Habiba sometimes fed her baby food from her own plate and they especially disapproved of her co-sleeping. Habiba was deemed mentally unstable and her baby was taken away her. She may be allowed to see her baby once a week.

Talk about "chaotic" and "damaging"! What could be more harmful than severing a mother and child bond like that? The separation must be horrifically traumatizing to both Habiba and her daughter. This story haunts me. I imagine the baby, lost without her mother, stuck with 42 other crying babies and only two (probably not very comforting) adults night after night. I picture Habiba with an aching, gaping hole in her heart, lost without her most constant companion for the past 15 months -- longer if you count pregnancy. I know how traumatizing this ordeal would have been for me and my son had the same thing happened to us.

If there's anything mothers hate, it's being told how to mother. I nursed my son until he was 3 (I kept waiting for that magical "self-weaning" to happen) and I co-slept -- two things I never thought I would do. I didn't do it because I thought it was "the best way" or because someone told me to; I did it because it felt right to me and to my son. Period. I have friends who made very different choices than I did, and I respect those choices as well.

Nothing galvanizes a group of mothers like the story of one of our own being denied her rights and her connection with her child, going all the way back to the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Over the past couple of weeks, bloggers all over the world have been spreading the word. The Facebook page We Are All Habiba has over 6,000 followers all avidly tracking Habiba's progress. A petition site cropped up on and letters are being sent to Spanish consulates, and IMMF's email box is overloaded.

Meanwhile, the publicity has brought to light other stories of abuse by IMMF. As pressure mounts, we're becoming optimistic that Habiba will be reunited with her daughter -- and that maybe we'll see substantial changes at IMMF. As harrowing as Habiba's story is, I'm touched and inspired by the massive support from her fellow mothers.

What do you think of Habiba's story? Why do others feel the need to tell us how we should feed our children?

Images via © Lukic; Louma Sader Bujana/Amor Maternal

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